Hymowitz Says the ‘Unsayable’

May 28, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

For once, a commentator on the sad state of American secondary education deals with the root of the problem (City Journal, 5/15/17). Kay Hymowitz was shocked when her old high school – Cheltenham High School in a suburb of Philadelphia – made national news because of a student brawl that injured, among others, four security guards and eight teachers. So, for the first time since she graduated, Hymowitz went back to CHS for a community meeting about what went wrong and how to fix it.

She was not amused.

In addition to memories, I found a stark illustration of the nation’s evasions about racial gaps in education.

Indeed. But “stark evasions” are what Hymowitz refuses to use when discussing the problems at CHS. In fact, her piece is entitled “Unsayable Truths about a Failing High School.” To her everlasting credit, Hymowitz says the “unsayable.”

That unsayable truth is that the violence and dysfunction at the school has an all-too-common root – fatherless homes. It’s unsayable partly because of the racial component of those homes. Nationwide, about 72% of black children are born to single mothers. It’s a little over 50% for Latinas and about 25% for whites. For all practical purposes, Asian women don’t have children out of wedlock.

Now the demographics of Cheltenham High School and the kids’ families don’t exactly match those of the country at large, but the fact remains that the kids no one can reach come from fatherless homes and, because such a high percentage of black households have no father, a lot of the lost causes are both black and fatherless.

What could not be said out loud was that the problem kids were all black, though the district superintendent did delicately indicate that the school’s trouble is “racialized.”…

Some of Cheltenham’s arrivals are spillovers from nearby North Philadelphia, the city’s immense and long-suffering black ghetto. They have moved into aging apartment complexes on the district’s border, bringing with them the old neighborhood’s broken culture. Forty-five percent of the black children in Cheltenham are born to unmarried mothers;…

If those households are like the struggling single-parent homes studied by social scientists, then the children are experiencing radically different domestic lives than their middle-class black and white classmates—with few routines, disappearing fathers and stepfathers, and little adult interest in homework, teachers, and discipline. Researchers have repeatedly found that boys growing up in single-mother households are especially prone to “externalizing” behavior like fighting, impulsiveness, rudeness—in other words, precisely the sort of behavior that the community meeting was demanding the administration do something about.

But of course school administrators can do nothing about a problem that existed years before those students reached their teens or showed up at Cheltenham High School. The “externalizing” (sanitized word!) behavior that stalks the halls of CHS took root when Mom decided to have a child without a father, or pushed Dad out the door at the first sign of dicey behavior, or moved in with another man, or divorced Dad or shoved him aside when he tried to take a hand in caring for his child.

And here’s what that behavior looked like at CHS according to teachers:

There was no way to chalk up these complaints to adolescent theatrics. A February survey of CHS teachers had already revealed a school that resembled Lord of the Flies. Cursing, yelling students roamed the halls, pushing, shoving, ramming each other into walls, sometimes “accidentally” colliding with teachers. Thirty-six out of 79 teachers surveyed believed that they were unsafe in the hallways, and those who didn’t acknowledged either being big enough to stare down students or practiced at minding their own business. “What are you going to do about it? You can’t do anything,” “Fuck off, crazy old motherfucker,” were some of the choice rejoinders they told of hearing.

To those with even a casual acquaintance with fatherlessness, that behavior fairly screams it. The type of limits that fathers tend to set on behavior from earliest childhood are both entirely absent and, if we have ears to hear, begged for by the kids themselves.

They’re not going to get those limitations, not from their mothers and not from school administrators. That’s in part because, as Hymowitz says, the topic is verboten. Essentially no one stands up and says that single motherhood is not OK or that it accounts for a huge amount of the dysfunction in black communities.

This class and family divide, intertwined as it is with race, is off-limits to polite discussion, leading conversations like the one at the community meeting into a verbal traffic jam of contradictions and dodges. The student council president shed tears over the mayhem in one breath and in the next demanded an end to the black-white achievement gap and adoption of “data-driven solutions” like “restorative justice.” (Unsurprisingly, this popular education fad has yet to be subject to careful study.) The audience retreated to the familiar litany of policy fixes with a long history of uneven or meager results: more black teachers! More counselors! More mentors!

Nonsense, utter nonsense. We dropped the Mother of All Bombs (pardon the pun) into a child’s life by denying him/her a father and now we pretend that counsellors and mentors can fill the hole. They can’t. Only intact families can do that. The fact has been demonstrated by so much social science showing that, across all demographic boundaries of race, class, income, religion, level of education, etc., kids with two parents do better than kids with one. We should be shouting that to the rooftops and beyond, but we don’t. It is indeed an “unsayable truth.”

Perhaps the greatest mystery is that restricting oneself to having children during marriage requires no massive governmental program to accomplish. No taxpayer dollars need be spent for women and men to simply do the right thing for their kids and themselves. I understand that marriages break down and people get divorced. When that happens, there are still ways to keep both parents involved in caring for their kids. That too we should cry to the heavens, but we don’t.

The dysfunction that cripples Cheltenham High School (the violence of a few affects the rest of the kids who behave properly) is just a microcosm of a much larger problem. Our refusal to speak the necessary words, much less take the necessary actions force us to draw an uncomfortable conclusion – that fatherlessness is the public policy of the United States. We do far too much to insure that result and far too little to correct it for us to conclude anything else. We are not only burning down our own house, but watching complacently as we do so.




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#education, #race, #fatherlessness

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