State of the Union

Why Being an “Excellent Sheep” Isn’t So Bad

William Deresiewicz’s July article for The New Republic, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” launched a insightful, heated debate about the nature and meaning of education. In the newest edition of The New Yorker, Nathan Heller has penned a thought-provoking review of Deresiewicz’s newly-released book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, specifically considering its discussion of self-focus and career, comparing them with the writings and thought of Robert A. Nisbet.

In considering universities’ education, Deresiewicz asks whether they produce self-realization: “The highest function of art, and of literature in particular, is to bring us to that knowledge of ourselves that college ought to start to give us,” he writes. But Heller objects to this:

The groovy lore of college—the notion that it is a place to find yourself, follow your passions, learn to think in ways that benefit the world … Nisbet thought that these ideals were mostly feel-good bunk. Since when was it the university’s responsibility to solve all of society’s problems? he asked. And why should a professor rich in knowledge have to teach things that a callow nineteen-year-old considered “relevant” and “meaningful”? Academe ought to focus on the one thing that it actually did well: letting scholars teach what they knew. That teaching might nurture intellectual skills that the students could use in the real world, but how it did so was mysterious and, anyway, beside the point.

This older idea of knowledge—something inherently and, indeed, objectively good—is contrary to “knowledge” in the conception of Deresiewicz and others, which must be self-applicable in order to be meaningful. But it’s true that Deresiewicz’s call for self-actualization is a bit more complicated than this (Heller notes that Excellent Sheep is “full of such confusions”). In an interview with The Atlantic‘s Lauren Davis, Heller explained the meaning of his book’s title:

… [Students are] sheep, because they have never been given an opportunity to develop their ability to find their own direction. They’re always doing the next thing they’re being told to do. The trouble is that at a certain point, the directives stop. Though maybe not, because even when it comes to choosing a career, there are certain chutes that kids, especially at elite colleges, tend to get funneled towards.

Here, Deresiewicz is denouncing the career-focused structure of learning and the limits it imposes on self-reflection, rather than denouncing the actual subject matter of learning itself. Later on, he applies these thoughts to the classroom and the way students absorb knowledge. “The main point,” he says, “is to know yourself so you know what you want in the world. You can decide, what is the best work for me, what is the best career for me, what are the rewards that I really want.”

These two realms in which Deresiewicz identifies a lack of “self-awareness”—the technical/professional and the personal/intellectual—are connected by the ingredient of time. Students are so busy pursuing parent or university-imposed trajectories that they have no time to reflect on their learning, what it’s for, how they ought to apply it. Deresiewicz has some good points here: it is true that, though knowledge itself is objective, we will be unable to see how it threads its way through our lives unless we cultivate a healthy amount of reflection.

But Heller has good points, too: he acknowledges that education ought not revolve around career paths and money, but also sees the tension between career and academics as the “fragile,” eternal balance of the university. And despite Deresiewicz’s criticisms of students’ frantic schedules, Heller writes that “the truest intellectual training could be how to stay calm, and keep thinking clearly, in the high-strung culture in which students need to make their lives.” These are truly lessons that will remain relevant throughout a person’s life. Heller seems to say that being an “excellent sheep” isn’t so bad, if you are truly an excellent one. Perhaps being a sheep is the first step along a path to eventual intellectual independence and prudence.

Deresiewicz sees the frantic chaos in students’ lives, and argues self-reflection will assuage their depression and give them meaning. Heller sees the chaos, and suggests that this is the way in which gold emerges from dross. It could be that both are right, to an extent: the key is, perhaps, in the “excellent” part of “excellent sheep.” If the core of an education is good and insightful, it will cultivate strong and thoughtful minds. Some students may still run frenzied and stressed between internships and fellowships, papers and projects, exams and speeches. But the meat of what they learn, their daily bread of knowledge, will sustain and grow their self-reflective souls. And eventually, whether during college or after, they will be sheep no more.


Posted in , , . Tagged , , . 7 comments

Unschooling: the Future of Education?

Ben Hewitt doesn’t send his boys to school—he doesn’t even own a curriculum. He’s an “unschooling” parent. Though the method has grown in popularity since educator John Holt introduced it in his books and theory, many Americans are still largely unaware of the term’s meaning or methodology. Hewitt explains and introduces the concept at Outside magazine:

It is already obvious that unschooling is radically different from institutionalized classroom learning, but how does it differ from more common homeschooling? Perhaps the best way to explain it is that all unschooling is homeschooling, but not all homeschooling is unschooling. While most homeschooled children follow a structured curriculum, unschoolers like Fin and Rye have almost total autonomy over their days. At ages that would likely see them in seventh and fourth grades, I generously estimate that my boys spend no more than two hours per month sitting and studying the subjects, such as science and math, that are universal to mainstream education. Not two hours per day or even per week. Two hours per month.

But perhaps to abate the shock and alarm of thousands of parents, Hewitt adds,

Our sons are not entirely self-taught; we understand the limits of the young mind and its still-developing capacity for judgment. … I can report that Fin and Rye both learned to read and write with essentially zero instruction, albeit when they were about eight years old, a year or so later than is expected. They can add and subtract and multiply and divide. I can report that they do indeed have friends, some who attend school and some who don’t, and their social skills are on par with their peers. In fact, Penny and I often hear from other adults that our sons seem better socialized than like-aged schoolchildren.

Hewitt believes that unschooling makes his boys happier, healthier, and more exuberant learners. He’s part of a growing group of parents who thinking homeschooling—whether applied via a more structured format, or via the more self-directed unschooling methodology—presents a better environment for children to grow and learn.

The greatest contrast to unschooling, perhaps, is the helicopter parenting method, in which children adhere to a very strict curricular and extra-curricular regimen. This sort of learning can take place in public or private school, or even occasionally in homeschooling households. Such families usually have at least the outline of a college plan in mind for their children, and their academic, athletic, and artistic pursuits will align with this overarching trajectory. Many parents encourage this “track” in hopes that their children will be successful in their future adult lives. However, these “guaranteed” methods for career success have fallen into disarray as of late. With crippling student loans and shaky job prospects confronting college graduates at every turn, many are reconsidering their demanding trajectories, wondering whether the work is truly worth it.

On the opposite end of the educative spectrum, we have more libertarian, loose methods, in which children are given a vast array of freedom over their education. This can either be intentionally or passively developed: some children in public school may receive little to no adult supervision. The system is very flexible, giving parents the opportunity to lean in or opt out of their children’s education.

But then there’s unschooling: a very intentional sort of negligence (though the word “negligence” is perhaps a bit too dysphemistic). Parents choose to let their children choose, sculpt, direct, and orchestrate their own education (or lack thereof). This method seems to have two common motivations that separate it from the more popular method of “homeschooling”: first, there are unschooling parents who acknowledge that children will learn what they truly want to learn, and that forcing them down a given path can have deleterious consequences. They see that their children are highly motivated when they are free to pursue their own aspirations, ambitions, and projects, and want to foster this sort of driven passion in their children’s learning. Thus, the reasoning goes, what better than to give them control of their own education? Read More…

Posted in , , , . Tagged , , . 13 comments

How Do We Fix the Ivy League?

What’s the problem with Ivy League schools these days? According to William Deresiewicz, their problems are legion. In an article for The New Republic, he cautions parents and students against pursuing an Ivy League institution. The schools are mere machines, he writes, drawing students who are “smart and talented and driven,” yet also “trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.” He explains further:

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

Peter Lawler has recognized this problem in the past, and points to our technification of education as a large part of the problem. “I’ve long believed that the main threat to liberal education—real higher education, in my view—is our tendency to judge the success of academics in technical terms,” he wrote recently at Minding the Campus. “… The art of teaching is becoming a technology defined by skills, competencies, machine-based grading, ‘smart’ classrooms, rubrics, and expert-generated ‘best practices.’” Lawler calls professors back to a mode of teaching in which history, philosophy, and literature are not lost in the quantifiable and scientific: in which professors mind their students’ “souls” and virtues.

In his article, Deresiewicz points to some problems in the admissions process, and offers some suggestions on how to fix it. A lot of his propositions are intriguing:

The education system has to act to mitigate the class system, not reproduce it. Affirmative action should be based on class instead of race, a change that many have been advocating for years. Preferences for legacies and athletes ought to be discarded. SAT scores should be weighted to account for socioeconomic factors. Colleges should put an end to résumé-stuffing by imposing a limit on the number of extracurriculars that kids can list on their applications. They ought to place more value on the kind of service jobs that lower-income students often take in high school and that high achievers almost never do.

… More broadly, they need to rethink their conception of merit. If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.

Deresiewicz is right: admissions departments are more likely to pull students based on their amount of technical abilities and measurable gifts than their more abstract (yet often more virtuous or innovative) talents. Even the colleges who acknowledge this problem are struggling to change. They are used to using numbers to measure and make all decisions, and their desire for quantifiable control can turn almost humorous. As Eric Hoover wrote for Nautilus, Read More…

Posted in . Tagged , , . 20 comments

Our Widening Country, City Divide

There has always been a country-city divide in America, with a swath of stereotypes belonging to each. The urban and rural embody different art, culture, scenery, mores, and religious inclinations, more often than not. However, new studies show that these division may be solidifying and building into an ever-greater chasm. As The Atlantic’s CityLab reports, college graduates are migrating to cities (the larger, the better) in droves:

Overall, larger and more vibrant metros with strong knowledge economies, abundant artistic and cultural amenities, and open-minded attitudes are the ones that are attracting and retaining the most college graduates. On the flip side, these metros are losing less-educated residents who are increasingly unable to make ends meetThey are instead moving to smaller, less affluent, lower-cost places. In fact, we found no statistical association whatsoever between the movement of college grads and the net movement of those who did not finish high school. These very different migration patterns reinforce the ongoing economic and social bifurcation of the United States.

There are a few problems with this sorting pattern that are likely to affect (and indeed, already have affected) the cultural and economic structure of the U.S.

First, this pattern of migratory movement does not offer complementary job creation or innovation in more rural areas of America. Small towns only see a detrimental “brain drain,” rather than any rate of return on the education of their youth. Due to the amount of lower-skilled workers moving to these areas, they won’t suffer an immediate lack of potential employees. But the innovation and creation traditionally fostered by America’s bright young people will be solely concentrated in urban hubs, to the detriment of potential entrepreneurship in other areas.

The post-graduation path most commonly supported at the university level today is to pursue the highest-paying jobs, in the most stable and established companies. Washington, D.C., for instance, draws a lot of young professionals, due to the power and money that it can offer (to those who work hard and get an internship first). Young people are encouraged to become lawyers, doctors, engineers—not farmers, local dentists, or grocery store managers. But young people should be encouraged in ventures that feature local innovation and entrepreneurship, that laud the goods of small businesses and community investment.

However, this gravitation to the city also makes sense when you consider the burden of student loans that every college grad faces: they’re likely to seek a job in an area where wages are higher. And this presents another challenge for our society, as we seek to build a job climate in which graduates have options: we have to offer them something at the local level that can compete with urban-level opportunities. Or if we can’t compete wage-wise, we need to offer them other things—like housing, benefits, cultural offerings, etc.—that will make the move seem worthwhile. Otherwise, young people will continue migrating away from rural centers of commerce and civic life. Read More…

Posted in , , , . 23 comments

Handwriting Matters, After All

Handwriting is largely viewed as an outdated skill: typing offers more efficient ease to teachers and students alike. The new Common Core standards, adopted in most states, only includes teaching of legible writing in kindergarten and first grade.

But according to new studies by psychologists, this recent dismissal of handwriting could have unintended consequences: the underrated skill is actually a boon to brain development and memory retention. New York Times reporter Maria Konnikova explained these studies in a Monday article:

When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.

… Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

Current educational trends tend to emphasize vocational and pragmatic elements of education. Which subjects will help students get the most lucrative jobs? Which will make them the most competitive on a global stage? Which skills guarantee the greatest college-readiness?

Yet in the midst of our quantification, we’ve lost qualitative ground. In the age of numbers, we can’t teach handwriting because it is beautiful, fun, and a building block for deeper communication and understanding of language. Instead, we dispose of it—at least until the studies come out, in all their number-crunching glory, to tell us that handwriting is actually worth something. Then, in a rather ironic twist, we discover that these qualitative skills actually hold some quantitative value, after all.

This discovery reflects our larger discussion of the humanities and their role in the modern sphere: we wonder what such studies are worth, when the modern job market seems to demand experiential, pragmatic skill sets. We vest importance in what you can do, not how you can think.

Yet the new data on handwriting seems to have some people, formerly dismissive of handwriting’s importance, conceding ground. One Yale psychologist admitted that “Maybe it [writing by hand] helps you think better.”

Some people have always believed handwriting to be beautiful and important. They know writing by hand has helped them connect meaningfully with information, in addition to helping them communicate clearly with others. But perhaps there is a level of sentiment in such value-based affection. Thankfully, we now have the data to prove that, aside from its qualitative benefits, handwriting serves important quantitative purposes, as well. Hopefully some teachers (and students) will see these truths, and take note.

Posted in , , , . Tagged , , . 15 comments

How to Stop Next Year’s Disinvitation Season

Disinvitation season has come and gone. In this year’s enactment of a now familiar exercise, Haverford, Rutgers, and Brandeis, among other other schools, were forced by opposition for students and faculty to alter plans for commencement speakers.

Parallel denunciations of creeping authoritarianism are part of the ritual. But the truth is that critics of the university on both the left and the right get what they really want out of these tiny fiascos: an opportunity to make vehement public statements when little of significance is at stake. Because commencement addresses are, with a few notable exceptions, emissions of immense quantities of hot air. Here are the deep thoughts with which Rice favored the graduates of Southern Methodist University in 2012.

Rather than lamenting the arrogance of administrators or immaturity of students, it’s worth considering how to reform the institution of commencement speeches altogether. After all, there’s no requirement that university import boldface names. Columbia, for example, allows only its president to speak. So here are some suggestions for preventing future commencements  from becoming occasions for embarassing disinvitations.

First, give students a role in choosing speakers. This would help gauge potential controversy early in the selection process, as well as building a constituency for the choice. One reason it’s so easy for a relatively small group of critics to push out a speaker is that the rest of the student body has no stake in keeping him. Allowing them to exercise some influence over the initial decision could change that.

But maybe students would use their influence to pick popular culture figures rather than serious types that convince parents and taxpayers that their money is well-spent. That risk could be avoided if universities stopped paying large honoraria. If potential speakers have something important to say, they’ll be willing to do so in exchange for reasonable expenses. Don’t subsidize celebrities—or high-priced “thought leaders” flogging their books.

Next, separate the conferral of honorary degrees from speechgiving. The former implies collective endorsement of the speaker’s career. The latter does not. One of Rod’s readers claims that Haverford opponents of Berkeley chancellor Robert Birgeneau objected to his honorary degree more they did to his speaking invitation. Whether that’s true in this case, there’s a morally and political relevant difference between hearing someone out and allowing an honor to be given in one’s own name.

Finally, revive the old practice of allowing a student elected by students to speak at commencement. This would allow students to express criticism or disapproval of other speakers in precisely the kind of dialogue that both lefties and conservatives claim to endorse.

Any or all of these suggestions would help prevent silly controversies without giving in to the heckler’s veto. But maybe the best solution would be to cancel the speeches altogether. Does anyone really want to be lectured in the inevitable commencement weather of blistering sun or pouring rain?

Posted in , . Tagged , , , , , , , , . 5 comments

For D.C. Schools, Brown Wasn’t Enough

When Brown v. Board of Education, the 9-0 Warren Court ruling, came down 60 years ago, desegregating America’s public schools, this writer was a sophomore at Gonzaga in Washington, D.C. In the shadow of the Capitol, Gonzaga was deep inside the city. And hitchhiking to school every day, one could see the “for sale” signs marching block by block out to Montgomery County, Maryland. Democratic and liberal Washington was not resisting integration, just exercising its right to flee its blessings by getting out of town. The white flight to the Washington suburbs was on.

When this writer graduated in 1956, all-white high schools of 1954 like McKinley Tech, Roosevelt, Coolidge, and Anacostia had been desegregated, but were on their way to becoming all black. Across the South, there was “massive resistance” to Brown, marked by the “Dixie Manifesto” of 1956, Gov. Orval Faubus’ effort to keep black students out of Little Rock Central High in 1957, and the defiance of U.S. court orders to desegregate the universities of Mississippi and Alabama by Govs. Ross Barnett and George Wallace. While he has received little credit, it was Richard Nixon who desegregated Southern schools. When he took office, not one in 10 black children was going to school with whites in the Old Confederacy. When Nixon left, the figure was close to 70 percent.

For nearly half a century, no black child has been denied entry to his or her neighborhood school because of race. Ought we not then, with Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom in the Wall Street Journal, celebrate Brown “as a truly heartening American success story”?

Certainly, by striking down state laws segregating school children, Brown advanced the cause of freedom. But as for realizing the hopes of black parents, that their children’s educational progress would now proceed alongside that of their new white classmates, it is not so easy to celebrate. For despite half a century of desegregation, three in four black and Hispanic children are in schools that are largely black and Hispanic. And the old racial gap in test scores has never been closed.

A May story in the Washington Post reports that not only has there been no gain in U.S. high school test scores in reading and math—the USA has been steadily sinking in rank in international competition—the disparity between black and white students has deepened. The quadrennial test given in 2013 to 92,000 12th-graders by the National Assessment of Education Progress, the nation’s report card, found that the test scores of Latino students are today as far behind those of whites’ as in 1999. The gap between white and black high school seniors in reading and math has widened. Read More…

Posted in , . 23 comments

What College Isn’t For

Students across the U.S. flock to elite institutions, hoping to find better jobs and to make more money—but a new Gallup survey conducted this spring shows that many of these universities don’t produce happier people post-college.

Leaving questions of money aside, the survey “was rooted in 30 years of Gallup research that shows that people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive,” according to a Tuesday Wall Street Journal article. The results were both depressing and interesting:

The poll found that just 39% of college graduates feel engaged at work—meaning, for instance, that they enjoyed what they did on a daily basis and are emotionally and intellectually connected to their jobs. And only 11% reported they were “thriving” in five different aspects of their lives, among which are financial stability, a strong social network and a sense of purpose.

That relatively small handful of graduates—who tend to be more productive—went to a variety of colleges, though they were slightly more likely to go to larger schools and less likely to have attended for-profits.

It would appear that one of the primary tests for choosing an academic institution—focused principally on the ability to procure a good job and a good paycheck—isn’t actually helping students who’ve committed themselves to this process.

Yet unfortunately, students do put a large burden on money to fulfill their lives after college: David Brooks captured some of these realities in his Monday New York Times column, “The Streamlined Life“: he writes that in 1976, only 50 percent of freshman said they were going to college to make more money, and in 1966, only 42 percent believed affluence was essential or important in life. But by 2005, 75 percent of students said “being well-off financially was essential or very important.”

“Affluence,” writes Brooks, “Once a middling value, is now tied as students’ top life goal.”

The spring Gallup survey found that students who reported the most “wellbeing” had received strong emotional and relational support while at college—and those who had pursued “experiential and deep learning” were “twice as likely to be engaged at work as those who didn’t.” As Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, told the Journal: “It matters very little where you go; it’s how you do it.”

Yet Brooks finds that here, as well, values have changed:

In 1966, 86 percent of college freshmen said that developing a meaningful philosophy of life was essential or very important. Today, less than half say a meaningful philosophy of life is that important. University of Michigan studies suggest that today’s students score about 40 percent lower in measures of empathy than students did 30 years ago.

… I’m not sure if students really are less empathetic, or less interested in having meaning in their lives, but it has become more socially acceptable to present yourself that way. In the shadow of this more Darwinian job market, it is more acceptable to present yourself as utilitarian, streamlined and success-oriented.

Students who are seeking a career as an end in itself will experience disappointment once they enter the workforce. Some will not receive the position or paycheck they desired. Others will get a great job, but will find that money, unfortunately, can’t cure all ills.

The pursuit of meaning and knowledge—the desire for ”experiential and deep learning,” as the Gallup survey put it: these motivations used to be primary passions for college students. Students who pursued college were interested in exploring the world—its history, culture, and people—more fully. It was an adventure, not merely a pathway to prosperity.

As we consider ways to reform higher education in our country, it’s important that we look past job markets and financial gains, and consider the qualitative benefits that higher education can still offer to students. As we’ve seen—via the information provided above, and through other studies—colleges and universities don’t always live up to their promises. But the student who desires to learn, for its own sake, will always receive benefits from college—and, if the Gallup survey is correct, from the working world, as well.

Posted in , . Tagged , . 20 comments

Killing the School Bus With Density

Over at Atlantic Cities, Sarah Goodyear flags a video about the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood: a city of 51,000 that has never seen a school bus. Originally a streetcar community with a concentrated downtown, as Lakewood grew it eschewed the sprawl model of suburban life, which builds schools like it does Wal-Marts: in cheap, far-flung land surrounded by vast parking lots. Instead, Lakewood built each of its seven elementary schools, two middle schools, and one high school in the growing neighborhood it would serve. Kids normally live within a mile or two of their school, and get to walk and bike through the neighborhood instead of being packed into sweaty vinyl seats as they wait for the bus to wind its way around to their house.

Lakewood is perhaps uniquely positioned to banish the bus from an entire city (at less than seven square miles, the city claims to be the densest community between New York and Chicago), but it holds rich lessons for cities and suburbs across the country. The video explains that most school districts build their schools on the cheap land they can get on the outskirts of town, then spend not-so-small fortunes on fleets of buses to transport the kids from their homes to the school parking lots. As many of us likely remember, this can append up to an extra hour of sitting and confinement to an already lengthy day spent behind desks. As the New York Times recently noted, these demands for disciplined stillness are particularly ill-suited to elementary school-aged boys, whose fidgety reactions to school structure leave them falling behind girls of comparable backgrounds almost from the very beginning. Building schools in walkable neighborhoods may not change what goes on inside the classroom by itself, but Lakewood says that it saves them a million dollars a year in busing costs.

Moreover, turning the bus ride into a walk or bike can help keep communities themselves alive and safe. Instead of funneling children from point A to point B, parents walking their kids to school pass through the entire neighborhood, get to see their neighbors, know what is going on in the area around them. This familiarity builds community, and safety, as more eyes will be more familiar with the neighborhood, and parents will be able to spot something amiss and organize if part of their children’s path to school starts to go downhill.

Walking to school is a seemingly small thing for a birds-eye urbanist to consider, but it can form the heart of organically strong neighborhoods.


Posted in , , , . 13 comments

How Parental Involvement Affects Students’ College Success

Children with “highly involved fathers” are 98 percent more likely to complete their college education, according to panelists at a Wednesday AEI event. Though we often look at the importance of marriage through a spiritual, social, or economic lens, the speakers at “Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success” argued that marriage and fatherhood are important for children’s academic success, as well.

Panelists emphasized a “growing father divide” in America: according to a 2013 Pew poll, fathers have more than doubled the time they spend with their children—from 2.5 hours per week to 7 hours—but this increased interaction is pretty skewed toward higher-income families. In the lower income bracket, single-parent families are increasingly common, and a father’s presence is often less prevalent.

W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project and author of When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America, believes paternal involvement makes a difference because of the additional academic, financial, and emotional support it lends to children. Fathers still earn a good portion of household income in married families, and are thus able to contribute to a child’s education via investment in good school districts, educational activities, and college tuitions. Additionally, his studies have shown that fathers are more likely to introduce their children to a work environment, athletic activities, civil society, and politics. They’re also more likely to encourage their children to be independent and to take risks (not to say mothers can’t encourage such activity—he just meant fathers, statistically speaking, are likely to encourage such things).

Kay Hymowitz, Manhattan Institute scholar and author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, hearkened back to a time when the fathers was seen as a rather remote figure in the home, likely to seclude himself behind a newspaper or spend extra hours at the office. She applauded the fact that this stereotype is changing, and suggested that activities like Little League sports have helped foster paternal involvement. But she added that such involvement is not “trickling down,” so to speak.

How to solve this problem? The panelists agreed that, at root, parental absences are often tied to marital issues. Though we do want to provide support to single-parent homes, regardless of the marital situation at hand, it’s important to note that stable marriages often lead to stable parent/child relationships.

But Patrick Patterson, Senior Manager at ICF International, suggested that measures to include fathers in the academic and social lives of their children can have a marked difference, regardless of the marital situation at hand. Fathers should be given more tools and encouragement to be involved in students’ lives at school, in extracurriculars, and in athletics. He noted that the resources and support systems available to single mothers are much greater than those proffered to fathers, and that oftentimes fathers are called upon in negative situations (i.e., child called to the principal’s office) more often than in positive ones. He added that the earlier fathers are engaged in their children’s activities, the more likely they are to stay involved. Read More…

Posted in , . Tagged , , , . 5 comments
← Older posts