As higher education becomes more expensive than it has ever been and the job market for recent graduates remains tougher than it has ever been I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that the number of Americans viewing college as a worthwhile investment is lower than it's ever been, down to 63% last year from 80% in 2008. Multi-millionaire Peter Thiel is among the ever-growing college skeptics, recently offering a $100,000 anti-scholarship to graduating high school seniors with the caveat that the funds not be used to attend college.
All of this raises an interesting question. Why does our country and our government insist on placing such an emphasis on, and investing so many resources in, validating the notion that all American students should be steered towards college, even those who may not have the motivation or capabilities necessary to succeed there? Instead of pouring countless resources into efforts to make every student college ready, couldn't many of those resources be put to better use? Namely by preparing American students for the one skill set the majority of them are guaranteed to need, and in which their success or failure will ultimately have the biggest long-term impact on taxpayers? I'm referring to parenting education and preparation.
Before you dismiss this post as some wacky, contrarian diatribe this idea is not as farfetched as it may sound and the idea is gaining ground -- in some places. One of the primary policy suggestions to emerge from a 2009 study of more than 35,000 published in the UK (the most comprehensive of its kind ever conducted there) is that parenting education for school students should become a part of the curriculum. The study deemed it one of the most important tools for stabilizing families and ultimately communities there.
Here in the U.S. successful parenting remains the most powerful weapon we have to combat many of society's larger problems: dropping out of high school (which costs taxpayers more than $100 million annually) and incarceration, (which costs us even more). Yet if you ask ten different parents to define successful parenting, you are likely to get ten different answers.
While one person may see his obligation as fulfilled as long as his kid doesn't starve, another believes he or she has failed unless junior makes it to the Ivy League. The fact that there is no real consensus -- and that we shy away from establishing any -- is in some ways quintessentially American, but also increasingly problematic. If we're never allowed to set standards for what constitutes a bad parent (or for the sake of political correctness a less than stellar one) then how can parents who need to, and want to, actually improve?
The New York Times recently covered legislative efforts to find legal remedies to address the kind of bad parenting that most of us can agree on, but that currently falls just short of criminal (parents whose kids are chronically absent from or tardy for school for instance). Yet those lawmakers still met resistance. While the legislators are certainly well intentioned, and I applaud them, they still seem to be missing the larger point.
Much like many other socio-political issues the real opportunity for tackling the problem, began long before the problem presented itself. If the parents referenced in the article -- those struggling to find a balance between their own work and making sure a little one has homework completed before showing up empty-handed and late to class -- had received the education necessary to become better parents before becoming parents, perhaps legislators wouldn't be spending time and resources trying to figure out how to penalize them for being bad ones.
As I noted on Monday's "The Dylan Ratigan Show," it's always struck me as strange that parenting, the most important job in the world, is treated as something you don't need any knowledge or preparation to do well. Even more absurd, for some reason the mere suggestion that people can actually improve their capabilities as a parent through education and effort (and should want to) continues to be perceived as taboo. (During a discussion with an acquaintance that asked rhetorically why any person wouldn't consider having kids, I replied, "Would you ask someone why he or she hadn't considered becoming a doctor? Because becoming a parent is harder and requires more skill, patience and commitment." He looked at me like I was bonkers.)
And yet week after week, story after tragic story we are reminded that not every person who can procreate should, but even more importantly that some people who might have the potential to be great parents, could be if they were given the specific tools and support systems necessary to get there.
This idea is a cornerstone of education pioneer Geoffrey Canada's model at Harlem Children's Zone in which parenting classes begin for young mothers before they give birth. The Obama administration has called Canada's curriculum a national model and has allocated some resources to replicating it in select cities. If only the resources were available to replicate such efforts nationally so that every potential parent who could benefit, would.
President Obama has been candid about some of the ways in which his own young parents, particularly his father, fell short. Just before this Father's Day his administration announced efforts to expand its Fatherhood initiative, details of which can be found at www.fatherhood.gov. (Click here to see a Father's Day list of the 5 Funniest TV Dads.) Some of the efforts include programs aimed at bringing more fathers into local schools as volunteers. While I think these programs are a great start, I'd love to see the administration go further in allocating resources to actually educating more students on what it takes to be a father in the first place. Just think. If we start early enough, we could start seeing more little boys believing that they too could be the next Barack Obama.
Because daddy told them that they could be one day.
This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor. She is the author of the forthcoming novel The GQ Candidate.