My grandmother told me something years ago that maybe you were told too: “Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”
I wonder what she would make of my friend (and my favorite conservative) Mitch Pearlstein who founded Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank?
We don’t catch up nearly enough, so I was happy to have him join my morning broadcast to talk about the thing that has been our binding point of interest — if not our eternal point of simultaneous agreement and departure — for as long as we’ve known each other: the importance of focusing on family “fragmentation” and its attendant impact on student achievement.
In my view, the insistence of conservatives that educational outcomes would change if only we get people talking about family structure feels more emotive and ideological than usable in any practical sense.
I concede that Mitch’s main argument is strong to the point of seeming insurmountable. Family structure is, empirically speaking, a major barrier to social progress. When you compare the GPAs, graduation rates, discipline rates, and other important outcomes of children in homes with two parents who are married versus all other structures, it is clear that there is an advantage to married families.
It’s difficult to argue against the positive benefits of children having intact, supportive, nurturing families, but I see three points that complicate the conservative picture.
First, too often the focus on family as a policy lever feels more like a clever sidestep that’s used to defeat arguments about structural racism and other societal factors that exist outside the control of individuals.
For example, so-called “broken” families didn’t put so much lead in the city of Flint’s water that it caused learning delays in children. Fatherlessness didn’t crowd low-rated teachers who weren’t taught how to teach the subjects they teach into classrooms full of poor, non-white children. Single moms didn’t draw the boundaries that redline Black and brown children into low-opportunity, ghettoized education deserts where it’s easier to find a gun or drugs than a school with a coherent educational philosophy, high expectations or a strong curriculum.
Second, there is a practical problem with the family structure obsession. Its premise could be the truest of all truisms, but I don’t see a solution that can pragmatically be addressed by policy makers.
How do they propose society scale up the proportion of two-parent families? What is the catalyst for the desired growth of intact families? Where is our evidence that the appreciation of traditional marriage and active fatherhood will change for the better anytime soon?
I don’t see it. So, knowing that family structures aren’t likely to trend the way conservatives believe they should, what’s our incentive as education advocates to focus on something unlikely to drive policies that make a difference in the lives of students?
Finally, my conservative friends rightfully point out the harm done to poor children by welfare programs that alienated fathers from participation in their families. But these same conservatives fail to admit how their own policies hurt Black families and communities too.
The clearest example is the retributive war on drugs which militarized police departments and took fathers out of mostly urban communities, out of the lives of children, out of the economy, and out of the pool of potentially married people.
Writing in the Undefeated about how the effects of that problem hit the Black community, Dominique Warren says:
The American presidency from 1970 to 2005 focused on “Law and Order” to combat drug trafficking and violence, resulting in 1 in 9 black children currently having an incarcerated parent. Ninety-two percent of parents in prison are fathers, and an overwhelming proportion of these fathers are black.
Yes, it’s a hopeful sign that President Trump, Jared Kushner, and Sen. Rand Paul have found common cause with Meek Mill, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West on passing nominal criminal justice reform legislation, but, remember, this comes two years after the Trump administration moved to end Obama-era reductions in mandatory sentencing for drug crimes.
Look at everything from commerce to law, education to housing, environment to medicine—in all of these policy areas, race and class stand stubbornly as forces with all the gravity that conservatives attribute to family formation. Conservatives are largely silent on what corrects those impactful sins. While many bloviate about personal behavior and the want of responsibility on the part of racial minorities, they won’t call for a moral change in behavior or responsibility of the barons of industry and the masters of government who control inequitable systems.
If there will be a productive coalition working to improve education, it will take brave conversations, evidence-based agreements, and ideological flexibility from all sides of the debate. Liberals will have to face the undeniable research on the importance of family, even while recognizing the impact of systems that do not work equally well for everyone. Conversely, conservatives will have to also recognize the indisputable evidence we have of structural factors beyond families.
I’m not hopeful about movement from either the left or right on the things they find disagreeable about each other, but it would be a shame if they let their pet issues take focus from the things we all know are important like preparing great teachers with evidence-based strategies, building schools with coherent educational philosophies, and providing the resources needed to optimize the success of students whatever their race or location.
If your presidential debate isn’t fit for kids, you’re not fit to be president
In a time when concerns about public health are stealing precious learning time from America’s children, it’s sad that this week’s presidential debate was another dispiriting lesson in failed leadership.
As citizens, we should expect the contest for the American presidency a top civics learning opportunity, but instead, we got schoolyard rock-throwing on Tuesday that wasn’t worthy of our children’s eyes, ears, or seat time.
That’s a shameful sign of three-plus errant years of declining decorum and lost integrity at the top of the American leadership pile – mostly because a lout has led us into moral anarchy.
If a president is the nation’s exemplar of our values and virtues, a presidential debate is a test, then Donald J. Trump spells trouble. The president I saw on Tuesday was a peevish and sweating example of everything I teach my kids not to be. He was rude, accusatory, irresponsible, blame-shifting, dishonest, and, worst of all, a nasty bully.
Let’s be honest here, if Trump were a Black 6th-grader behaving this way in a Houston classroom, he might be suspended and not allowed to return until his parents met with school staff about his self-regulation challenges.
Now, this is where I’m supposed to dazzle you with my broadmindedness by pointing out ways in which Biden fell short too.
That form of mindless bothsiderism is a shortcut to thinking and judgment. It’s not good for a responsible citizen and fails as an appropriate example for children.
Unlike the president, I don’t see value in teaching our children to equate white supremacists with the convenient ghost of Antifa or the political cartoon of Black Lives Matter. To overstate something moral and obvious: There are no “very fine people” who are so spitting mad about the existence of non-whites that they descend on communities with tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
If I fault Biden for anything, it’s not being assertive enough about centering these mass-media opportunities on the nation’s children. In my view, his education plan is expensively inconsequential concerning the things that matter most, but are talked about least: quality teaching, learning to standards, evidence-based educational interventions, and academic outcomes that close gaps between the haves and have-nots.
I waited for his promise to move hell and Earth, unions and bureaucrats, publics and privates, lefties and right-wingers, to ensure every American child gets a practical education that prepares her for life in the economic mainstream (a promise that every president since Lyndon Johnson has made), but instead, the former Vice President mostly shadow-boxed the patently erratic orangish gentleman to his right.
My friends, please expect more. When these two private school parents who want to lead the free world take the stage next time to present competing visions for where we should go as a people, let’s hold them to two demands.
First, they commit to being appropriate examples for our children of how great Americans behave, think, and debate. Or, let them disqualify themselves for failing on that point.
Second, they explicitly detail how their policies will prepare the next generation to be productive members of a free country. They must articulate a plan for systems and policies that allow children to learn in ways that best suit them.
We are so far from that now. Poor academic outcomes for racial minorities, students in poverty, and students with special needs are all too enduring. For example, in most states, less than a quarter of Black students read or perform math proficiently. Non-white students get the worst prepared teachers who – as research tells us – hold implicit biases against them. Further, students of color are more often identified for negative discipline consequences than for gifted programs (even when they don’t qualify for the former and do qualify for the latter).
At the same, education bureaucracies stifle the creativity of teachers through endless standardization. Their lobbying groups fight the emergence of innovative schools and programs that come from chartering laws. Their programs too often limit the most advanced students by gearing the system to a catch-all, mediocre middle.
On top of all that, legacy debts that were born of poor financial decisions compound over time and rob our students of their full per-pupil income by paying for yesterday’s obligations at the expense of tomorrow’s promise.
All the while, we lament the mythical cuts to education funding as the bill for public miseducation and its systemic failures escalates annually.
Hopefully, when they meet again, both candidates seeking our votes in the upcoming election will have something profound to say about how we change the game for students and families.
The candidates need to can speak to raising the expectations for results in education. We need to know how colleges can prepare better teachers for the classroom and how schools can better support them once they are there. Above all, we need to hear how these candidates can provide more resources directly to families so they can determine how, when, where, and what their children learn. We need a moonshot for things like getting all cities, towns, and rural areas wired with broadband and how we expand the educational opportunities diverse families need.
I’ll be watching the next presidential debate for all that and hoping against hope that two candidates worthy of the nation they want to lead show up with all their best faculties on display. Above all else, I hope they remember the children.
Crisis parenting isn’t easy, and carry on
Who will ever tally the toll of mass school closings that have put many families into crisis parenting mode? I’m not sure, but the media messages we get need to be more informative.
Let me use a scenario and to two people.
The scenario: you’re in an elevator in a tall Chicago building with two other people. There is a big bump that jolts the elevator, the lights flicker, and you can tell something bad could be happening.
Person numero uno in the elevator with you starts screaming “we’re going to die!“
“This is the end!“
Person numero dos is calm. She appears to be assessing the situation and considering possibilities for escape.
Person numero uno is the media. He uses words like “disaster” to describe challenges parents face with remote learning. It’s godawful he says. Too hard. Kids hate the new normal. The technology glitches out constantly or bores or confuses them. Teachers cry online. Parents suck at teaching. It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of kids and their studies while also working (for those privileged enough to work from home).
Along those lines, columnist Peg Tyre wrote in Forbes last spring “[r]eality is dawning that parents of school-aged children can’t work and educate their children at the same time.”
I take issue with that. Parents can and must educate their children, even while balancing other demands of life. Even during a global pandemic. There is no other option. Period.
Damnit, that’s what being a parent means. You signed up for it. Now do it.
I suggest you consult with Person numero dos. She won’t tell you what you want to hear (that you’re a martyr and woe is you), but she’ll say what you need to hear (toughen up buttercup).
No, life isn’t always convenient.
Yes, you’re in possibly the toughest situation ever.
Yet, worshipping the problem won’t make it less tough. These are your kids and you were always responsible for moving mountains to get them the education they deserve. Schooling has made it easy for you to idle on autopilot, but no more.
I’m not saying Person number uno is wrong to be alarmed. Reality is on his side. There will be negative consequences of closed schools and the curtailing of daily classroom instruction. It will almost certainly stunt the academic growth of children under-resourced families.
We weren’t prepared to turn our homes into makeshift schools without warning. We quickly feel inadequate about assisting our kids. They keep asking us about concepts we haven’t studied in years. We also worry about the looming social emotional and mental health consequences of the isolation of quarantine.
Some will say I’m glossing over the wildly different financial and social situations families live in. Obviously the single parent with a job in hospitality faces far greater challenges than telecommuting professionals currently forming learning pods for their kids. And yet, no matter where you live on the economic totem wallowing won’t help you or your children. Only character will.
I see story after story about the inequities that will be widened because wealthier parents are hiring tutors or teachers and setting up their own micro-schools. Recognizing that as true doesn’t absolve anyone from having to answer the most powerful question: “what am I going to do?“
Who has the information that will help us do our best for our kids wherever they are? What is our inventory of resources, connections, and skillsets?
What power do we have that we aren’t using?
Panic and pity will always be inferior to extreme ownership and stress management in my mind. The best thing we can teach children right now is how to confront adversity with a clear head and fortitude.
To that end, it’s time for Person number dos to tell Person numero uno to sit down, zip it, and speak only when spoken to. This is crisis parenting and we should aim to win.
Children and families are hurting while you take selfies
Families are having a tough time and that’s especially hard on children. So, you’d think that would generate empathy and generosity. Instead, it looks like selfish gene has taken over.
Let me not overstate the problem. But a New York Times story about the ugly and petty clashes pitting Silicon Valley workers with children vs. the those without children is sad commentary on where we are.
When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a companywide videoconference on Aug. 20, more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support nonparents, since its other policies had benefited parents.
The question struck a nerve. An employee wrote in comments accompanying the video feed that it was “unfair” that nonparents could not take advantage of the same leave policy afforded parents. Another wrote that while the procedure for taking leave was usually difficult, it was “easy breezy” for parents.
This problem repeated at Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google. Inter-office chats raged with childless employees expressing frustration with their co-workers who have children, and working parents firing back.
A key to understanding the conflict, at least in my mind, is this snippet from the story: “[the problem is] where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.”
This is an indictment of the always-on self-loving generation who demand to compensated greatly for losing themselves into work (something that is killing them).
It’s also a mark against the previous generation that parented them during the self-esteem movement which produced little more than entitlement and isolation.
We should fear repeating those detachment issues with today’s kids who are out-of-school and living through Chromebooks, iPads, and iPhones.
Isn’t it telling the Times’ story is set at tech companies? They are basically narcissism factories providing clout chasing ME-llennials digital tools to live that selfie life, why wouldn’t they attract workers who put their wants ahead of the needs of others.?
Can we really expect the generation that swipes left or right for love to demonstrate genuine empathy? Can we get them to look up from their app long enough to see 9 million of their fellow Americans have dropped out of work to care for children or an elder relative?
These families don’t have employer-paid wading pools, bike repair shops, free meals, and doggie cafes – but, who cares?
But, they should. We all should. I’m as libertarian as the next guy, but your issues will often become “our” issues.
Nearly one in five working adults reports not working because the pandemic shuttered childcare options. That’s crazy.
According to the federal government “Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.”
I don’t know when we stopped believing that children and their parents should be a policy priority? And, no, it isn’t one generation of us suffering from an empathy deficit. America is afflicted with that as a whole.
I don’t have an answer for what workplaces do to make their childless workers feel they have benefits equal to working parents, but I know more than ever we need everyone to put kids first.
If not, we’ll all face death by selfie.
Public Schools3 days ago
Rev. Sharpton: Education problems are a ‘five-alarm’ fire
Teachers Unions6 months ago
In the rush to beat Trump, we can’t let Biden cave on ed policy
Parents7 months ago
I don’t think calling me ‘Uncle Tom’ means what you think it does?
Culture5 years ago
That one time Sister Souljah schooled Cornel West
Parents3 weeks ago
Remote learning isn’t great. Whining is worse.
Culture10 months ago
THREAD: If ‘dark money’ is a problem, call it out on all sides
Charter Schools2 years ago
The problem with you calling us out for being funded by hedge fund billionaires is that you’re funded by hedge fund billionaires (and unions)
Culture4 years ago
I need justice, I need peace!