An Attempt At Activism

Last December I was in a church meeting and had an idea: I knew what I thought the biggest factor was in our problems with education as institution around here, but nobody was talking about it.  Nevada’s huge divorce rate (and, based on informal observation, cohabitation rate), was creating a poor environment for learning.  Awareness needed to be raised. 

So in my spare time I worked on a letter asking local leaders to familiarize themselves with the problem and address it.  A week and a half ago it was finished and I sent it out.  I included excerpts from summaries of dozens of studies that backed up the obvious–family structure is a major factor in educational success. 

But so far, zero response.  I’m not sure what I expected.  Is it asking too much that a city in an academic disaster take seriously a critical but neglected cause of that problem?  I suppose the budget crisis is more glamorous to report on, and my issue can’t compete with the political drama these days. 

Here’s the letter I sent, along with the 25 recipients, who maybe just haven’t gotten around to it, yet.  Maybe I need to take more of a grassroots approach.  Right now, I’m just sorry I spent half of my personal allowance for the month on postage for this!

March 31, 2011

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

Education in Nevada is unacceptably unsuccessful.  We are near or in last place for student proficiency, achievement, and graduation rates.  Recent budget problems have many worried that things may get even worse.  Our children’s future is in a state of emergency.

While many in our area wonder why students aren’t more successful, there’s one important factor that is usually ignored: too many students fall behind and fail because their parents aren’t married.  Several other factors are often mentioned, such as poverty, but, as seen in the enclosed materials, a major cause of poverty is fractured families.

I’ve seen proof of this in the lives of many, many young people—I have been a teacher here for over a decade, and a lot of my colleagues and I know that the primary predictor of student success is the marital status of their parents.  I’m writing to people in our valley to ask that we all do what we can to promote the kind of traditional, intact family that will help young people in Southern Nevada be as successful as possible. 

I’m including excerpts from a few summaries of studies that show quite clearly that children are by far most likely to thrive academically when their family is a traditional, intact nuclear unit.  The rest of these reports, their sources, and many more agreeing with them are readily available online.  (Note: here, here, and here)

This is not to judge anybody who has been divorced, had a child out of wedlock, or anybody else (I was divorced myself once), nor is this a plea for any legislation or funding.  I am only asking that we realize that some of our life choices are bad for children, and that we do whatever it takes to fix this.  Our community needs to reform if our children are to do better, in school and in life. 

What can we do?  Here are some ideas for how we can improve our community:

  • We should each, personally, start where we are and live as closely to the ideal of the traditional nuclear family unit as possible. 
  • Encourage—by our examples and, when appropriate, our advice and counsel—others within our spheres of influence to do the same.
  • Share the kinds of facts, research, and stories included here as much as possible. 
  • Promote activities, discussions, programs, and anything else that falls under the descriptions of our work with the community that will strengthen traditional families.  We need to talk about this with everyone we can reach, consistently, and not let it go until the youth of Southern Nevada have the world they deserve. 

This may bother some adults, but it will absolutely improve the education of our children.  Some may counter this by pointing out that many children of divorced or never-married parents are very successful, and that many intact homes are dysfunctional and harm children.  I don’t disagree about the existence of these exceptions, but based on all available experience, reason, and evidence, intact homes are by far the most likely environment in which children may thrive. 

Below is a list of everybody receiving this letter.  This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of leaders in the valley; it’s just a start.

Each of you reading this has a strong influence in our community.  You can inspire us.  Your voices make a difference.  Please discuss this with your peers and colleagues, and do whatever you can with them, as well as your clients, customers, associates, congregations, audiences, employees, or whomever you can reach to rebuild the foundation of our children’s lives. 

As a teacher and a father of five who is saddened by seeing too many children sold short by our choices, I thank you in advance for any time, effort, and care that you can put into helping strengthen the families (and, therefore, the lives and education of children) in our community. 

Sincerely,

Jamie Huston

Recipients:

 

  1. Las Vegas Urban League
  2. Southern Nevada AFL-CIO—Roberta West, President
  3. KNPR 88.9 FM—Florence Rogers, President
  4. KDWN 720 AM—Tum Humm, General Manager
  5. El Mundo—Eddie Escobedo, Publisher
  6. Stephens Media (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas CityLife)
  7. Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas Weekly—Brian Greenspun, Publisher
  8. Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce
  9. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department—Douglas Gillespie, Sheriff
  10. Valley Health System
  11. Mayor Oscar Goodman and Las Vegas City Council
  12. Mayor Shari Buck and North Las Vegas City Council
  13. Central Christian Church—Jud Wilhite, Senior Pastor
  14. Canyon Ridge Christian Church—Kevin Odor, Senior Pastor
  15. KSNV Channel 3—James Rogers, Owner
  16. KVVU Channel 5
  17. KLAS Channel 8
  18. KLVX Channel 10—Tom Axtell, General Manager
  19. KTNV Channel 13—Jim Prather, General Manager
  20. KINC-Univision Channel 15
  21. Las Vegas Sands Corp—Sheldon Adelson, CEO
  22. MGM Resorts International—James Murren, CEO
  23. Caesar’s Entertainment, Inc—Gary Loveman, CEO
  24. Station Casinos—Frank Fertitta III, CEO
  25. Boyd Gaming Corp—Keith Smith, CEO

4 comments on “An Attempt At Activism

  1. While I never would have pin pointed this as a problem before, being the daughter of a single mother and a student having done well in high school and doing well in college, and while I don’t whole heartedly agree that this is the most important factor in a child’s education, I will agree that this is a factor after having read your sources. What I don’t get is how you expect to change this. The ideas you listed, such as promoting the nuclear family, sound great, but let’s be honest, a man or woman unhappily married is not going to avoid divorce based on the idea that it might hurt their child’s schooling no matter how many times someone has told them the benefits of the nuclear family. Everyone thinks they’re the exception. Parents will find dozens of examples where children in single-parent households, step-households, etc have done perfectly well in school and they’ll pacify themselves with the idea that this will be the case for their family. I suggest, at the moment, we focus less on promoting the importance of the traditional family and focus more on getting people to pull their heads out of their butts.

  2. “I suggest, at the moment, we focus less on promoting the importance of the traditional family and focus more on getting people to pull their heads out of their butts.”

    I think I would agree with this. I think most of our society does know the importance of the traditional family else why would so many people get married. There is a desire to have the ideal family. Yet somewhere along the way, things don’t turn out exactly like people think things will and then just want to have a way to get out. We think that when it doesn’t turn out exactly how we imagined it, then we must be married to the wrong person and it would be “right” with someone else. Its such a fallacy in our society. My favorite quote I heard from someone was “We don’t marry the right person, we become the right person.” Now granted we want to make sure there are basic fundamental things that are congruent between the people marrying but from then on, its about working to continue to stay married. Even those who say they have married their best friend, if they don’t take time to nurture their relationship, problems will creep in and they will find themselves in a very different place.

    I also agree that everyone thinks they are an exception to things. And people really re-story their experiences to make it fit for their current situation. So someone who would have told you at their marriage or shortly thereafter that things were meant to be and amazing might tell you 5 years later when times are rough that they had always had doubts about the marriage. Its a funny thing, these stories we tell about our life. :)

    My thoughts, we have pulled ourselves and our society too far from God. We don’t value humility or practice the things talked about in 2Corinthians 6:4-6 “in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses,

    5In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings;

    6By pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned”
    I believe that if we could get back to those characteristics being valuable, then we would see very difference marriages which would end up less and less in divorce and kids would do better in many areas of their life.

  3. Good start. Now step away from your keyboard and get out there and do something. While words are indeed powerful, you’ll find actions are not only more effect but more fulfilling as well.

    Good luck!

  4. Thanks for the feedback, all! It’s telling that we don’t talk about this much–certainly not like we used to (when was the last time you heard the phrases “broken home” or “illegitimate child”?)–even though research makes family structure one of the most universally-proven topics in sociology.

    Funny that you correctly zero in on the tendency to see ourselves as the exception, Alicia. I’ve been wanting to write something for a while about that part of human nature.

    Great thoughts, Jen. Life never turns out the way you expect, but too many of us seem too willing to cut and run when the going gets tough. Amen to your ideas.

    Ken, I’ll see what I can do.

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