Fixing schools depends on fixing families first
Many conservatives define our public-school problems in terms of teachers unions, administrator organizations, colleges of education, and the rest of the educational establishment holding oligopolistic sway. In essence, they are looking to governmental change to fix what are, in large measure, the results of social and spiritual problems.
Do great educators and great schools make enormous differences in the lives of all kinds of students—from the most fortunate to the least—every period of every day? Of course they do. But many more kids than we may think have such holes and disorganization in their home lives that they find it too hard to concentrate and work hard enough so as to perform well enough academically.
Looking less individually and more communally (as in largely fatherless communities, of which we have vast numbers), it's clear that neighborhoods in which more than 80 percent or 90 percent of children are born outside of marriage are not particularly conducive places for even middling achievement. Peer pressure, for example, can be perverse anyplace, but tends to be especially poisonous—as in epithets about "acting white"—where strong families aren't buffers.
Or consider not just everyday ants-in-pants, but the specific matter of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a real affliction that affects not a large proportion of people but a large number of them. Many researchers say ADHD's fundamental causes are genetic, not anything social, such as AWOL parents. Let's accept that. But don't constant pressures and accompanying crises—the very kinds often entwined with family fragmentation—trigger and ignite genetic predispositions?
Whether it's ADHD as strictly defined, or some other state of mind with fewer if any explanatory pages in any psychiatric textbook, it's clear that sizable numbers of children have an extra hard time concentrating on their schoolwork because of unfilled holes in their lives. A 2010 Educational Testing Service report concluded that educational progress was unlikely apart from "increasing marriage rates and getting fathers back into the business of nurturing children."
Fixing education, like charity, begins in the home.
Mitch Pearlstein, founder and president of Center of the American Experiment, is the author of From Family Collapse to America's Decline.