The PJ Tatler

Obama Should Focus on The Family, Instead of Universal Preschool

There’s an old axiom that says the family is the smallest school.  It’s the most effective way of instilling a model of values for the next generation.  In his State of the Union, President Obama has called on Congress to make preschool education a universal right in the United States, which would be paid for by the taxpayers.  Given the state of our education system, which isn’t good, this frivolous proposal shows the liberal affinity for big government solutions to problems where the state is powerless.  Furthermore, given the abject failure of federal education programs, like Head Start, it’s irresponsible for the president to make any suggestions towards education policy before we fix our most pressing cultural problem, which is disintegration of families.

As conservative commentator George Will said in a lecture at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis on December 4, 2012, the problem of family disintegration dwarfs the fiascos we face with the fiscal cliff, entitlement reform, and the national debt.  Forty-one percent of newborns in 2012 were born to unwed mothers.  Will aptly noted the what is to come from poorly-parented adolescent males roaming the streets as the result of our failed education system.  It’s truancy, crime, and a rapid decrease in America’s future economic productivity.

As USA Today’s editorial board noted in their op-ed on February 20:

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960. Many succeed thanks to the heroic efforts of strong, motivated single parents and other relatives. But research shows that children of single parents suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low performance in school.

Ron Haskins, an expert on children and families at the Brookings Institution, calls single parenthood a “little motor pushing up the poverty rate.” In 2011, the rate for children of single mothers was more than four times greater than that for children of married couples.

Researchers at Princeton and Columbia, following 5,000 children born to married and unmarried parents, have found that the effects of single parenthood seep into every aspect of kids’ lives.

A typical pattern in these “fragile families” looks like this: When a child is born, most fathers and mothers are in a committed relationship. By the time the child reaches 5, though, many fathers have disappeared. As the mothers move on to new relationships, the children face more instability, often with new siblings born to different fathers. Boys without strong male role models are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.

Single mothers read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime. All these behaviors are important predictors of children’s health and development.

It is a tragically familiar pattern. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Johnson administration official and later a U.S. senator, warned about an alarming rise — to nearly 24% — in unmarried births in the black community. His prescient warning created a furor among liberals and civil rights leaders, who accused him of blaming the victim. The rates are now 73% for blacks, 53% for Hispanics and 29% for whites.


So, sure, explore Obama’s plan to expand quality preschool, and make sure kids aren’t then dumped into failing elementary schools. But don’t miss the core problem. The primary engine of social advancement has always been the family, and it is breaking down.

Yes, urgent action is needed, but we don’t know how to fix it.  To cite Will again, we understood that families fragmented in times of war, plague, and famine, but this development has sociologists baffled.  Tax dollars won’t help stem the tide, and certainly bigger government won’t ameliorate the situation either.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop liberals from making proposals on the flawed model of x-dollars should equal y-amount of results.  What’s even more frustrating is that this method of dealing with social ills, or preventing them, was refuted in the 1960s with the Coleman report, which evaluated American education from Kindergarten through 12th grade.

The results indicated that a school’s success rested are based on the family structures of the respective student body. According to the report, five areas can predict an effective school by counting the number of days a student missed from school, the amount of reading material in their home, the amount of homework done in the home, the number of parents, and the amount of television watched daily.  If President Obama wants to expand preschool, he needs to focus on fixing the problems within our education system first, and that starts with policies encouraging the formation of families.

Solving America’s education calamity begins at the home, specifically at the dinner table. A place that Ronald Reagan said is where all great change begins.