How Family Dysfunction Hurts Education

Three examples from my experience as a teacher:

1. A young man struggles with his work at school because his divorced mother has a hard time getting him to school.  His father tries to facilitate contact with the teachers and get his work made up, but it’s just too overwhelming.  Despite the student loving his school and wanting to thrive there, he ends up having to switch schools in the middle of the year.

2. A young woman is very successful at school, until her mother starts hitting her in fights.  The student has to move in with her aunt and, like the young man above, switch schools in the middle of the year, losing a leadership position at the school she’d attended for years.

3. A young woman has difficulty focusing on maintaining her grades while her mother has to move their family frequently to avoid her father, a drug user who, since getting out of jail, is harassing them.

Cherry-picked worst-case scenarios from over the years to make a point?  I wish.  I saw all three of these things happen in just the last two months.

Family structure and stability are so crucial to success.  That’s common sense, and it’s also supported by mountains of research.  Still, we don’t talk about it anymore because it might be inconvenient for some adults, or hurt our feelings, or be politically incorrect.  And kids just keep paying the price for it…

 

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Social and Political QUOTES: January 2014

 

  • “Fatherless families were also at least partly responsible for a national breakdown in authority and rising levels of crime. My view was backed in 1992 when three influential social scientists with impeccable Left-wing pedigrees produced a damning report.  From their research, they concluded that children in fractured families tend to suffer more ill-health, do less well at school, are more likely to be unemployed, more prone to criminal behaviour and to repeat as adults the same cycle of unstable parenting. But instead of welcoming this analysis as identifying a real problem, the Left turned on the authors, branding them as evil Right-wingers for being ‘against single mothers’.”  Melanie Philips, “Why the Left hates families: MELANIE PHIILLIPS reveals how the selfish sneers of Guardianistas made her see how the Left actively fosters – and revels in – family breakdown…

 

  • “I have been told that being hard on you Millennials will turn you against conservatism, that I should offer you a positive, hopeful message that avoids the touchy problem of your manifest stupidity.  No. There’s no sugar-coating it – your votes for Democrats have ensured that you are the first generation in American history that will fail to exceed what their parents attained. Embracing liberalism was a stupid thing to do, done for the stupidest of reasons, and I will now let you subsidize my affluent lifestyle without a shred of guilt.”  Kurt Schlichter, “Maybe Pain Will Teach You Millenials Not To Vote For Your Own Serfdom

Notes on My Talk in Church Today

Below are my notes from a talk I gave in my ward today, about fatherhood and priesthood.  I had to cut a few things out for time, most notably a story about President Monson’s father’s example of priesthood service with his son, and a paragraph about honoring my own dad.  The notes are choppy, but I think you could get the gist of it. 

*****

Thomas S. Monson quote:

My own father, a printer, gave me a copy of a piece he had printed. It was titled “A Letter from a Father” and concluded with this thought: “Perhaps my greatest hope as a parent is to have such a relationship with you that when the day comes and you look down into the face of your first child, you will feel deep within you the desire to be to your child the kind of parent your dad has tried to be to you. What greater compliment could any man ask? Love, Dad.” (“Treasured Gifts,” 12/06)

My version: tucking son in bed, feeling sentimental, tell him that someday he’ll grow up and we’ll be best friends.  He laughs and says, “Don’t be silly, you’ll be dead.”

Speaking on assignment from bishop about fatherhood and priesthood.

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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. Continue reading

Politically Incorrect Thought of the Day

I once spent three years teaching in the room next door to a woman who, after we’d spent all that time sharing and discussing many of the same students, made a startling observation that, although it contradicted her own political beliefs, she said she could no longer deny. After yet another female student from a broken home had made huge mistakes due to her low self esteem, the other teacher said, “I’m going to lose my feminist credentials for this, but the fact is that girls need affirmation from men. All these sad girls we see wasting their lives are doing it because their fathers aren’t there for them. If girls don’t get attention and affection from their fathers, they’ll just go out and get it from some guy at school.”

Of course, there are also girls who ruin their lives with sex or drugs despite having great fathers, but she was right: the vast majority of girls with social, emotional, or academic problems got that way lamenting the lack of adequate attention from a male.  I suppose this is just one more example of the damage wrought by our easy divorce culture, but certainly one of the most tragic.  The correlation between a strong father-daughter relationship and her success is well established. Does this influence how much extra positive regard I try to give to my own girls at home? Yes it does.

MYTH: “You have to live together before you get married”

Last Saturday, I heard this one over and over as people used it as their talking point for a radio audition.  I’m sure we’ve all heard this reiterated endlessly.  It always surprises me how blithely people rattle this one off, with little thought for how vapid the argument really is.

First, this thesis is usually followed by their one and only line of defense for it: “You don’t really know someone until you see how grumpy and grungy they are in the morning.”  Seriously?  You have to live with someone to know that they’re grumpy and grungy in the morning?  Isn’t everybody?  And if we already know this, then we don’t really have to live together first in order to learn it, now do we?  News flash, folks: that special someone you’re thinking of making a commitment to also has really bad breath when they wake up.  And I didn’t even have to live with them first to figure it out!  There, I just saved you the cost of some moving boxes.

“But,” interjects our torridly anxious co-habitants, “you need to live together first in order to truly know them and see if you’ll work out together.”  This “reason” is even more lame than the first one.  When, exactly, do you know if things are going to “work out” with someone or not?  After six months?  Three years?  Ten years?  What magic sign of “working out” are you looking for? 

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Book of Moses Commentary Part IV: Fathers Must Teach Their Sons the Gospel

[Previous installments here, here, and here]

Quick, who can spot the pattern in these two verses?

“Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begat Enos, and prophesied in all his days, and taught his son Enos in the ways of God, wherefore Enos prophesied also.”  Moses 6:13

“And Jared lived one hundred and sixty two years , and begat Enoch; and Jared lived, after he begat Enoch, eight hundred years, and begat sons and daughters.  And Jared taught Enoch in all the ways of God.”  Moses 6:21

This formula is certainly used or suggested elsewhere in scripture: in the Book of Mormon, for example, Nephi starts off by telling us that he had been “taught somewhat in all the learning of my father,” (1 Nephi 1:1), just as Enos begins his story by declaring that he, “knowing my father was a just man–for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord…” (Enos 1:1), and King Benjamin had three sons whom he also “caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers…” (Mosiah 1:2)

(Maybe this post should have been called, “Fathers must teach their sons the gospel…and, apparently, literacy skills.”)

The relative silence in the scriptures about the training that comes from mothers, or towards daughters, shouldn’t be construed to mean that no such teaching takes place, nor should this emphasis on father-to-son teaching be taken to mean that no other teaching is important in the family.  After all, the Book of Moses reminds us that as Adam and Eve started having children, “Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.”  (Moses 5:12)  Adam may have had some personal priesthood interviews with Cain, Abel, Seth, and his other sons, but certainly the first family also had plenty of family home evenings where the teaching was more generally dispersed. 

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Five Things Parents Need To Know Before Getting Divorced

Divorce is a sensitive subject.  Those of us who have been through it might be reluctant to discuss its lingering problems, because it might lead to an impossible “what if?” game: “What if I hadn’t gotten divorced?  Would I have more or less stress today?  Could things have been worked out?  Would my children be better or worse off now?”  There’s just no way to know for sure, and especially for those of us who have moved on to new marriages and more children, such debating can only cause unproductive pain. 

What’s done is done, and we need to go forward making the best lives we can for all of our families, but for those who might be in a troubled marriage and are contemplating divorce, I want to share a few things from my experience that it might help you to know.  At the very least, these are things that you will have to deal with if you do get divorced, and it’s better to know in advance what you’re getting into.  Frankly, if these thoughts give some couples pause for second thoughts, the world might be a little bit better off.

1.  If you get divorced, your ability to raise your children the way you want to will be severely reduced.  Continue reading

What We’ve Given Up

In 1998, my church had an area conference, where everyone in Southern Nevada was invited to attend a massive meeting at our largest local stadium, the Thomas and Mack Center, and hear addresses from two of our highest ranking leaders: Russell M. Nelson, an Apostle, and Thomas S. Monson, then a counselor in the First Presidency to Gordon B. Hinckley.

Somehow, I got assigned to be an usher at the meeting, and was given the unglorious task of managing seating on the central section at the back of the upper level: the section of the arena furthest from the stage.  I sat, entranced, in my extreme nosebleed seat, squinting to make out the tiny figures ahead of me.

I remember the moment that made the deepest impression on me.  Elder Nelson was speaking, and in his remarks, he mentioned that he and his wife had celebrated their fifty year wedding anniversary a few years before.  He also told us that they had nine children, a total of grandchildren that must have been about fifty, and a growing generation of great grandchildren. 

But that wasn’t what touched me.  Continue reading

Story Time!

Introducing a new page (seen on the menu above, next to “Home” and “About”), wherein our beleaguered hero, abashed at his dearth of success in publishing fiction, valiantly posts his stories on the Internet for free…

Story the First: a semi-autobiographical bit of catharsis…

The Five Worst Problems In America Today and The One Thing We Can Do About Them

4/19/14: Update here.

4/3/09: Read an update on the five problems here.

 

We could blather endlessly about all the problems in our society, but there are a few that are so catastrophic and so influential on our lives that they need to be recognized and addressed as such. If we’ve become too numbed by fear-cloying news stories, let’s not forget that some things truly are disastrous.

I ranked these five things because the other social ills we might wring our hands over derive from these, and they, in the order I present them here, flow from each other. For example, one might protest that abortion isn’t mentioned here, but I see that as a subset of #3 and #1 below. Likewise the increasing health problems of Americans are caused by #4 and #3 (and, ultimately, #1), as the increasing costs of health care fall under the umbrella of #5 and #4 (and, to an extent, #1). It could be argued that, with this thinking, every problem could be traced back to #1. To which I say: yes, exactly.

#5. Government Size and Spending

“The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.”    –Gerald Ford, 38th U.S. President

Our republic was founded on principles of individual liberty, limited government, and respect for private property.

Respect for private property is now gone. The Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that governments can seize your property from you for whatever reason they see fit.

The federal government now gives $150 billion of “corporate welfare” each year to companies that don’t need it.

Another $100 billion per year is simply wasted. Government doesn’t seem to be terribly “limited” anymore.

Further, as of January 2008, China, a potentially hostile nation, owns nearly $500 billion dollars of our debt, or about a quarter of the entire foreign total. Hostile Middle Eastern countries own nearly another $150 billion.  What does this mean for us?  Potential for foreign veto power over us, virtually amounting to blackmail.  So much for sovereignty!

To cover this outrageous, sprawling bureaucracy, the government takes about a third of our incomes annually. The most productive members of society are disproportionately targeted as victims of this extortion.  For example, as of 2001, as the title of this report puts it, Top 50% of Wage Earners Pay 96.03% of Income Taxes.”

America’s work force must labor for about the first third of the year just to cover the government’s expenses, before they start taking home a single penny for themselves.

And, of course, the increasingly heavy hand of government regulation kills innovation, stifles liberty, and costs our economy trillions of dollars every year, all while being completely counterproductive.  Here’s proof: “The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which placed extremely costly additional financial burdens, is estimated to have “cost in lost market value of U.S. companies at $1.4 trillion.”  So individual liberty is also severely curtailed.

And most recently, the socialist sub-prime mortgage bailout courtesy of Uncle Sam, with its frozen interest rates, will only further hurt the economy, to the tune of $20-$25 billion of our hard-earned tax dollars.

Which leads to the next worst problem in American today:

#4. Individual Fiscal Irresponsibility

“God gave the world to men in common; but…He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational (and labor was to be his title to it); not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious.”  –John Locke, English philosopher

I live in zip code 89031, which had the highest foreclosure rate in the nation last year.  I see the results of monetary immaturity in the “bank owned” and “foreclosed” signs on about every third house in relatively good neighborhoods.

Also, how is it not a catalyst of mass national panic that we now spend more than we make each year, creating a negative savings rate?  Since 2005, we’ve lost all budgetary restraint as a nation. We now keep less money than at any time since the Great Depression.

And, don’t forget, the runaway consumer credit debt among our self discipline-deficient society is now about $2.5 trillion dollars.

#3. Decline of Morality in the Media

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  –John Adams, 2nd U.S. President

A cursory observation of any teenage hangout in America answers an age-old question quite handily: life most definitely imitates art. Not only is the media the dominant force in shaping the character of Americans today, nothing else even comes close enough to bother counting as second.

A 2004 Harvard study found that movies with coarser content are getting lower ratings than they used to; PG-13 is the new R.

A disturbing 2001 PBS special chronicles in detail how the youth-oriented music and film industries manipulate their products to pander to the worst impulses of juveniles, effectively addicting them to their basest desires in a very successful bid to pick their pockets.

Depravity sells. A 2006 New Yorker article showed how another company produced the popular series of “Bratz” dolls by purposely making the “Barbie” model of dolls much sleazier. As the article put it, “8 is the new 13.”

No matter how much the $13 billion a year video game industry might want to bury it, the fact is that the unanimous verdict among researchers is that media violence has a strong, immediate, and devastating effect on children.

The effect of these atrocious role models is undeniable, and they’re reflected in the last two major problems facing our people now:

#2. Decline of Literacy and Education

“A popular government, without popular information…is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both…”  –James Madison, author of the Constitution and 4th U.S. President

What’s the practical result on a generation (or three) of never having been weaned from the constant electronic teat of the entertainment industry?

A recent study found that we have now reached the point where only 1 out of 2 American high school students in major cities even graduates.

A 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts proved that Americans not only read far less than previous generations, but they read far less well, and this decline has major detrimental effects in the real world.  Among the findings:

  • American 15-year-olds ranked fifteenth in average reading scores for 31 industrialized nations, behind Poland, Korea, France, and Canada, among others.

  • Literary readers are more likely than non-readers to engage in positive civic and individual activities – such as volunteering, attending sports or cultural events, and exercising.

This isn’t something that might become a problem in the future, it’s a crisis now.

#1. Decline of the Traditional Family

“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”  –Arnold Toynbee, British historian

As with media violence, the long term damage done to children, and society at large, by family decay is starkly revealed by a slew of research: children in intact nuclear families are statistically better off in virtually every way. 

Among the seemingly endless varieties of emotional shrapnel that have embedded themselves in the American psyche as a result of people’s selfishness, is this shocker: 1 out of every 4 teenage girls has at least one sexually transmitted disease.

That’s not just another “issue,” it’s a pandemic.

And perhaps most chilling of all is the fact that the decline of marriage and family inexorably leads to the decline of the human presence on Earth, period. Our choices in the 20th century have created an environment where civilization may well whimper and slink away into the shadows in the 21st

With our fertility rate barely at replacement level (and that still puts us in the lead for the developed, Western world), people are starting to realize that the world we’re leaving to our children will not only be poor, amoral, and ignorant, but also vastly smaller than the teeming masses brewing in hostile parts of the globe.

Ultimately, the end of the world.

Conclusion: The One Thing We Can Do

Whenever these subjects arise, the reflex is to call for more personal responsibility. Sure, if everybody just grew up and did what they were supposed to, we could eliminate all these problems tomorrow.

But it won’t happen. For example, Russia pays people to have more children, to shore up their flagging population, but people still refuse to reproduce. Once widespread ennui sets in, entropy takes over and no external stimuli can reverse it. Humanity no longer accepts any incentive to work.

Some things have helped: “broken windows” policing and turning welfare into “workfare,” for instance. Other things might help, such as tort reform and voting wiser leaders into office. But all these things are only band-aids. They make a dent, but every conceivable idea is just spitting on a forest fire at this point.

Actually resurrecting the long-dead notion of stigmatizing bad behavior, if we hadn’t erased it from our memories, still wouldn’t be enough to make a sizable difference.

The one and only thing powerful enough to heal the wounds inflicted by the modern world, the sole path that can return us to safety and strength, is religion.

Nothing we can do will fortify ourselves and our own families, much less influence for good the world around us, as much as faithfully living the positive dictates of our religions. “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5)

Keeping ourselves worthy of the Spirit, being good examples and ministers to others, and inviting others to join with us in love—that has always been the only sure way of protecting society.

No, I don’t think enough of us will do enough good to turn America around. No matter how hard we tried, I doubt it would avail anything. I’m not aware of any civilization that has sunk as far as we have and then successfully regenerated itself. It’s my opinion that much of this nation has reached the point that Paul described as “having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). That’s why I can only recommend faith; we’re past the point where appeals to patriotism, duty, or any other such motivator will have an effect. Even so, we might be able to help some few who would listen and benefit from a better life.

Even if not, we are called to live a certain way. “And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.” (Moroni 9:6)  Actively living the way of the great organized religions will lead us to be involved citizens, careful with money, morally strong, mentally alive, and, most important of all, committed to a wholesome family life.

It is my most profound prayer that as many of us as possible will accept the call and take upon us the cross that we must bear in a disintegrating world, and live the best life we can live, “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save,” avoiding and fighting the evils I’ve numbered here, so that we, again with the Apostle Paul, might say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)