Saturday, July 2, 2011

Another reminder that school choice is desperately needed

Mitch Pearlstein is the founder and president of the Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank in Minnesota. In an excellent (and sobering) article in the current issue of The Weekly Standard, Pearlstein argues that broken families are the real obstacle to economic growth.
What, then, is the conservative remedy for all of this? Free-market principles, of course, are sound and fitting whenever economic hurdles are to be jumped. And a cultural and religious revival would be welcome, if hard to summon up. But what else might reverse the family bleeding? Here is just one idea.

Under normal circumstances, boys grow up and marry the women who become the mothers of their children. If, however, they reach adulthood unable to hold a job, stay sober, or keep out of jail, they quickly find that desirable women have little interest in hitching themselves to them. In communities where marriage is vanishing, it cannot be revived unless millions of boys (and girls) get their lives in decent order. Aimless or felonious men are not the only reason for the decline of marriage, but they are a sizable one.

Many of these young men grew up without their fathers and suffered what some call "father wounds." Would it not make sense for such boys to attend schools properly described as "paternalistic"? These would be tough-loving places, like the celebrated (but still too few) KIPP Academies, with their Knowledge Is Power Program. Would it not also make sense to allow many more boys and girls to attend religious and other private schools, which have their "biggest impact," according to Harvard’s Paul Peterson, by keeping minority kids in "an educational environment that sustains them through graduation"?

That idea of "sustenance" deserves pondering. Minor wounds usually heal fast. Deep ones take longer. Children scarred by father wounds and other family absences and disruptions, very much including missing mothers, need sustenance of the most personal and vital kind. Such sustenance can be provided by some kinds of schools. I once asked a nun, the principal of a Catholic elementary school, what her school's mission was. As best I remember, her words were, "To manifest God's love to every child." As educational mission statements go, this is one of the briefest yet meatiest ever devised. Schools with this purpose might powerfully nourish the boys and girls​—​fathers and mothers in training​—​who are most in need of food.

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