Enter Coleman, and the colleagues he directed, to puncture complacency with the dagger of evidence — data from more than 3,000 schools and 600,000 primary- and secondary-school students. His report vindicated the axiom that social science cannot tell us what to do, it can tell us the results of what we are doing. He found that the best predictor of a school’s outcomes is the quality of the children’s families. And students’ achievements are influenced by the social capital (habits, mores, educational ambitions) their classmates bring to school…
The causes of family disintegration remain unclear, but 51 years ago Moynihan and then Coleman foresaw the consequences. Moynihan said the “tangle” of pathologies associated with the absence of fathers produces a continually renewed cohort of inadequately socialized adolescent males. Socializing them is society’s urgent business if it is to avoid chaotic neighborhoods and schools where maintaining discipline displaces teaching. Coleman documented how schools are reflections of, rather than cures for, the failure of families to function as the primary transmitters of social capital.
Referring back to the FPI, Rhode Island does poorly in just about every category: economics, 43rd; demographics, 46th; family self-sufficiency, 42nd; family structure, 46th; and family health, 50th. The only category in which the Ocean State exits the bottom 10 is family culture (25th), which captures crime, church attendance, non-marital births, and education attainment. This, arguably, is an indication of the bifurcation that might occur in an unhealthy society that forces people to choose whether to firm up their lives, move, or give in to despair.
The upshot is this: Rhode Island’s progressive tendencies destroy families and make it more difficult for them to be self-sufficient, partly due to the political strategy of ensuring that as many people as possible are bought into the government system one way or another. That’s what needs to change.
Last night, exiting a liquor store in Fall River, I heard a woman shout at a man, “I do worry, because if something happens, you’ll go back to jail.” The couple (both white) then stood in front of the store, he with arms crossed next to the entrance, she in front of him with arms moving.
Obviously, I don’t know their circumstances. I don’t know if they have children. I don’t know what it was that he might have done to go to jail or might do to return. I don’t know what stresses lead him to such behavior or even whether her remonstrances were justified. Still, it seemed to me that, making some obvious assumptions, this couple was pretty close to the marginal cliff’s edge at which public policy should be focused.
The progressive approach, we all know from experience, would be to assume that she is the hero and his masculinity the problem. Society should therefore attempt to prevent him from doing whatever inspired her objection and empower her to get along without him if he fails. But that approach would not address the causes of his behavior (to which, for all we know, she contributes), and more importantly, if the couple does have children, it would tend toward excluding or even removing their father, rather than making him the man he ought to be. (Taking the progressive method further, of course, would ensure that she kills any children whom they should happen to create.)
A better approach would be to treat them as people of value both individually and as a couple. Making the assumption that she had reason for concern and he had reason to reevaluate his behavior, he (along with their children) is fortunate that she took sufficient interest to confront him. Society and its public policy should strive to help them build on that source of fortune and strength, not undermine it.
That means valuing good behavior more than punishing bad behavior and giving people the freedom and responsibility to forge their own paths. As a simple matter of reality, that approach cannot be accomplished through the same social institution (government) empowered to put people in prison and take their money away. Rather, it must be accomplished through those cultural and (yes) religious institutions that explain to people the rewards of good behavior without the power to force them into it.