THE BLOG
07/16/2013 05:47 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2013

First Fix Families, Then Worry About Schools

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In my last article, I argued that the US will never be able to "fix" its school system until we fix our families and cultivate a culture of education. As an example, I cited studies that demonstrate how children of Asian immigrant families consistently perform at a high level in the classroom regardless of ESL status or income level. This seems to be the effect of strong family values and parents who invest in their child's education and emphasize its role in future success.

To further my point, let's take a look at the most underrepresented group in American universities and the workforce: black males. The lack of success of black boys in schools is unarguably tied to the broken state of many black families in the US, where the majority of black children grow up in poor single-parent homes, often headed by the mother. As more women have joined the workforce and divorces have become more socially acceptable, the rates of marriages crumbling and childbirth out of wedlock have skyrocketed in the black community.

Studies have shown that children of single parents are statistically at a disadvantage when it comes to schooling. Single parents are less likely to be invested in their child's education due to the stress of paying the bills and supporting a family singlehandedly. Furthermore, these parents often have no choice but to move to poorer neighborhoods with lower-quality schools.

Research has also demonstrated that boys who grow up without a father figure are more likely to engage in drugs and criminal activity. In 2011, 72 percent of black babies were born to unwed mothers. Boys growing up in such an environment are much more likely to receive poorer grades and exhibit behavioral problems, and girls have a higher probability of teen pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Certainly we should take into account the effects of a history of discrimination and institutional racism on the stunted progress of black Americans in US society. This history has undoubtedly contributed to the cycle of poverty that many black families are having trouble escaping. And the mass incarceration of black males for minor drug offenses surely isn't helping fathers find meaningful employment and the ability to support a family.

However, the country has reached a point where racism can only be blamed for so much. A recent poll questioning the levels of contentment and life satisfaction among Americans revealed that over the past few decades, black Americans have only been getting happier, and are now virtually on par with white Americans in terms of "happiness index" despite little improvement in narrowing the employment and income gaps. This is believed to be a result of the substantial decrease in discrimination and overt racism over the past 40 years.

What this reveals is that no amount of government aid is going to rebuild broken families and instill in them the values of education and hard work. But what politicians, community leaders and parents have to realize is that this is the root of many pervasive economic, social and educational problems. One of the best things people can do for the future of this country is avoid unwanted pregnancies. Only give birth to a child when you are certain you are willing to invest the time and resources into raising a human being, and have a partner that will be there to help.

Of course this is easier said than done, but regardless of your definition of "family values," it's difficult to argue with such advice. Unfortunately, most politicians are unable to examine this issue, due to the risk of coming off as "politically incorrect" by openly acknowledging the broken state of black families.

In an ideal world, teachers would do a better job inspiring, encouraging and teaching students the value of learning, in order to compensate for a lack of family support. Unfortunately, most of the teachers working in the schools that could use the most help are typically not the most charismatic, effective, nor respected educators and can't be expected to revolutionize the mindsets of their unmotivated pupils.

In the end, the root of the solution begins with healthy, supportive families. There is no magical formula for effective parenting, but I think it's fair to say that success in school and life often begin with two loving parents -- regardless of race, income or sexual orientation. Good families raise good children, good students and good citizens. We won't improve by emulating systems that thrive in radically different cultures, as I discussed in my examination of Korean and Finnish education.

Care for your kids, read to your kids, encourage them to read on their own, make sure they do well in school and a great number of this country's problems will be fixed.

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