NPR on Fatherlessness

June 19, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I spoke too soon. Of course I did. No sooner had I proclaimed that I hadn’t found any overtly dad-hating articles for Father’s Day, I stumbled across this (NPR, 6/18/17). But hey, it’s NPR, so what did I expect?

Now the gist of the article is the many problems we face as a society due to fatherlessness, with the focus on educational deficits. That’s an appropriate theme for a Father’s Day piece. But NPR just couldn’t let it go at that. It had to – just had to – get in a slap at fathers.

The article is an interview with Alan Blankstein, who’s written extensively on our educational crisis in the United States and what fatherlessness contributes to it. He has his facts straight and understands the gravity of the problem of kids growing up without their dads.

The growing number of fatherless children in this country poses one of the most serious problems in education today, according to best-selling author Alan Blankstein.

Wait. Is this really NPR? Could it actually be coming to grips with what is not only one of our most serious educational problems, but perhaps our single most serious social problem of any kind?

So, just how many kids are fatherless? NPR Ed put that question to Blankstein, who told us that 24.7 million kids in the U.S. don’t live with a biological father…

Fatherlessness is having a great impact on education. First of all, it’s growing, and the correlations with any number of risk issues are considerable.

Children are four-times more likely to be poor if the father is not around. And we know that poverty is heavily associated with academic success. [Fatherless kids] are also twice as likely to drop out.

Yes, those correlations are indeed considerable. Plus, the poverty rate for kids living with a single mother are staggering. This being NPR, we can safely assume that their listeners are well acquainted with the many deficits associated with a life in poverty. So maybe, just maybe some of those listeners will put two and two together and draw the appropriate conclusion – that fatherless kids tend to be poor kids, so we should make an effort to insure healthy father-child relationships. I know it’s a stretch, but I can hope, can’t I?

You know, I’ve been in this for 30 years, and when I speak to superintendents, social service people and counselors in schools, they’ll easily acknowledge that at the root of kids’ [academic] problems, is the lack of a relationship with their father.

More of the same. Lack of a father is a prime predictor of poor academic performance (as well as countless other problems). Will NPR listeners draw the obvious conclusion?

What’s the role of race and class?

Memo to NPR: please see Blankstein’s answer regarding the relationship of fatherlessness and poverty.

Race and class matter, as it does in everything in America, but the overall trend [of fatherlessness] is up for all families. So we’re looking at a 20 percent rate among white fathers who are absent in their children’s lives, 31 percent for Hispanics, 57 percent for African-Americans.

Is this something the average NPR listener can grasp? Or has his worldview already been shattered by an intelligent, informed expert pointing out that we can’t simply intone the mantra “race and class” to describe the root of all social problems. Indeed, whether anyone at NPR knows it or not, this is not news. Decades ago, David Blankenhorn told us in his book Fatherless America that the problems associated with fatherlessness extend across all boundaries of race, class, educational level, income, religion and geographical area. Why is NPR just now getting the message (if it is)?

So far, Blankstein has confined his answers to the parameters of the question asked. But when the NPR interviewer asked him about the teen suicide rate that’s twice for fatherless kids what it is for those with dads, he can’t resist putting in a few relevant, if unexpected, facts.

It’s a tragic outcome that could be prevented. Inclusion of a father is possible, especially if he’s interested. But [often fathers are] being denied, and that’s not unusual. When a father’s access to his child is minimized, or kept to every other weekend, the father is not involved with his child or his child’s school.

That’s another blow to the typical NPR take on fatherlessness, i.e. that fathers are absent because they’re worthless deadbeats who don’t care about their kids or their kids’ mothers. The idea that family courts are actively denying children a relationship with their fathers is nowhere in the NPR playbook. More discomfiting still is that, since family courts and family laws are at the heart of our crisis of fatherlessness, we can do something about the problem. We can change those laws and educate those judges in the science on the value of shared parenting to kids particularly, but in fact everyone. And if we can do something about the problem that’s one of the worst we face, maybe NPR and its listeners should put their shoulders to the wheel and push in that direction. And if they’re not doing that, then they’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.

I somehow doubt that that’s a message NPR listeners want to hear.

Having been surprised by Blankstein’s previous answer, the interviewer was swift to reassert the usual NPR narrative.

But what if a marriage falls apart and the father’s presence does more harm than good?

Yes, when a divorce occurs, “the father’s presence does more harm than good.” Divorces don’t happen because child custody laws and practices tell mothers loudly and clearly that they’ll get custody of the children, child support and alimony. No indeed. They only happen because the sainted mother is done wrong by the dastardly dad. So, why should we allow kids to see their fathers who only do “more harm than good?”

Needless to say, it never occurred to the NPR interviewer that sometimes mothers do “more harm than good.” Nor did he pause to consider the fact that mothers do twice the abuse and neglect of kids that fathers do. No, the NPR narrative – desperately reiterated – is that we can’t trust fathers to do the right thing by their kids. This in the face of an interviewee who’s said nothing except how beneficial fathers are to kids.

Do you know of effective interventions designed by schools to help students who are fatherless and hurting?

Have you listened to a word your interviewee has said? How are schools supposed to solve the problem of fatherlessness? They don’t cause it, they only suffer its consequences. Year after year, millions of kids without fathers pour into classrooms around the country and teachers and administrators are supposed to do what fathers would be doing if they were allowed a role in their kids’ lives. We ask the impossible of those people. So no, schools shouldn’t ask them to correct what the court system and our cultural zeitgeist get so terribly wrong.

Thanks to NPR for interviewing a knowledgeable person on such an important topic. Too bad the interviewer couldn’t get out of his NPR-induced coma long enough to give some constructive thought to what Alan Blankstein was saying.




National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

#fatherlessness, #NationalPublicRadio, #poverty

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