American Parents, Family Policy, and Courts Contribute to Poor Student PerformanceWritten by: Rob Print This Article
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The recent release of Davis Guggenheim’s film Waiting for Superman has contributed to a flurry of discussion over how to fix failing American schools. I’ve read quite a bit on thoughts regarding school reform and find that there is a striking absence of discussion of American family policies and the abusive family law courts as major contributors to poor student performance. Yet studies show that divorce has a major negative impact on student performance.
Adverse impact of divorce upon education has skyrocketed as divorce has been more common. Divorces in 1920 caused a 3.6 month loss of education, but since 1970 they have blown up to about a year in lost education. This timeframe roughly corresponds with the rise of “no fault divorce” in Western nations.
Multiple divorces had an even worse impact on high school graduation rates. While students who parents stay together average a 78.4% rate of graduation from high school by age 20, one divorce drops the graduation rate to 60%, about the same as for children whose mother or father died. Divorce and remarriage did not significantly change the graduation rates for children versus divorce with no remarriage. But with divorce-remarriage-divorce (two divorces), the graduation rate drops further to only about 40%, half of that for children whose parents remained married.
Parties as diverse as social scientists, economists, and national security experts point out that America’s under-performing educational system is a threat to the future of the nation. The United States has long maintained the economic and military superiority over its adversaries that lead to a secure and prosperous nation in large part due to the educational opportunities available to American children. Universal K-12 education means every child is supposed to have access to the knowledge and skills needed to get a start in life. American universities attract the best and brightest students from around the world. The inventiveness of these students is immense. They often become scientists, entrepreneurs, and other major contributors to the advancement of knowledge and wealth of the nation.
America’s academic performance has been on a steady downward slope for decades. This decline parallels the destruction of families via no-fault divorce that has made divorce far more common as well as the laws and court behaviors that create conflict and place children into traumatic and contentious custody battles. Often these children are stripped of most or all contact with one of their parents due to wrongful sole custody decisions and the courts enabling and encouraging parental alienation child abuse. The two phenomena of poor school performance and poor family life are directly related. While parents do make their own share of mistakes, failed government policies are the glue that binds together these interconnected disasters into a destructive spiral.
Americans Kids Are #1 — In Their Own Minds
Guggenheim’s film points out that the only area in which American students excel is self-confidence. They are sure they are the best, after all they are so often getting excellent grades — never mind they don’t deserve them or that their actual competency versus students in other nations is sorely lacking.
Ask any university professor about the degree of entitlement in recent generations of students who believe they should get A’s just for showing up. Oftentimes, when these young adults get the lower grades they deserve (e.g., poor attendance, incomplete work, poor test cores or not following assignment directions), the students complain to the professor and then escalate to the dean and right on up to the university president or, worse yet, get their outraged and enabling parents to do it for them.
Small Changes in Parent’s Attitudes Can Lead to Huge Outcome Differences
Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children discusses some of the ways that parents are creating this narcissism problem in children. They cite research by psychologist Carol Dweck that shows even small differences in how parents interact with their children can make huge differences in academic performance.
One such observation is that the way parents praise children affects what kind of risks the children are willing to take. Dweck found that telling kids they are smart actually hurts them. It creates a perceived psychological risk that they may fail and then be seen as not so smart after all. So when it comes time to choose between stretching to learn something new and risk failing or doing the same old thing again and doing well, the kids who have been inundated with praise of their intelligence will not stretch to try something new because doing so risks failure. Praising them for effort, by contrast, doesn’t set up this perverse disincentive for stretching to learn new skills.
Other research shows that variations in corrective style also have huge impact on kids. Bronson describes research that shows what happens when mothers are told their children did not do well on a test and take differing approaches to help their children cope. Psychologist Florrie Ng did an experiment with American kids in Illinois and Chinese kids in Hong Kong. She found that after telling mothers their children didn’t do well on a test, American moms don’t bother to try to help their children do better, unlike Chinese moms. The Americans ignore reported poor performance and talked about anything but the test, as if to shield their children from failure. The Chinese instead try to encourage their children to do better. The results? On a retest, Chinese students have more than twice as large a performance improvement as their American counterparts. The American kids seem to get the message that it doesn’t matter how they do, the Chinese get the message that they are loved but can do better.
Brushing aside failure, and just focusing on the positive, isn’t the norm all over the world. A young scholar at the University of Illinois, Dr. Florrie Ng, reproduced Dweck’s paradigm with fifth-graders both in Illinois and in Hong Kong. Ng added an interesting dimension to the experiment. Rather than having the kids take the short IQ tests at their school, the children’s mothers brought them to the scholars’ offices on campus (both in Urbana-Champaign and at the University of Hong Kong). While the moms sat in the waiting room, half the kids were randomly given the really hard test, where they could get only about half right inducing a sense of failure. At that point, the kids were given a five-minute break before the second test, and the moms were allowed into the testing room to talk with their child. On the way in, the moms were told their child’s actual raw score and were told a lie that this score represented a below average result. Hidden cameras recorded the five-minute interaction between mother and child.
The American mothers carefully avoided making negative comments. They remained fairly upbeat and positive with their child. The majority of the minutes were spent talking about something other than the testing at hand, such as what they might have for dinner. But the Chinese children were likely to hear, “You didn’t concentrate when doing it,” and “Let’s look over your test.” The majority of the break was spent discussing the test and its importance.
After the break, the Chinese kids’ scores on the second test jumped 33 percent, more than twice the gain of the Americans.
The trade-off here would seem to be that the Chinese mothers acted harsh or cruel — but that stereotype may not reflect modern parenting in Hong Kong. Nor was it quite what Ng saw on the videotapes. While their words were firm, the Chinese mothers actually smiled and hugged their children every bit as much as the American mothers (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices).
Po Bronson on the Inverse Power of Praise
From this research, it is clear that minor differences in how children are praised or corrected can create enormous differences in outcome as measured by academic performance.
Given this, how do you think big differences like having two loving cooperative parents versus two warring parents will affect academic performance?
American has turned its children into mediocre kids who are little narcissists suffering from insecurity complexes. Parents are contributing factors, as the research mentioned above shows.
But parents are often being driven to fail their children by failed government policies. The government and its “child protection” agencies and family law courts pit parents against each other in custody wars, sapping the family’s resources that could have been better allocated to education and raising children.
The parental warfare often results in children learning that being emotional manipulators is a path to success as parents cave in and reward these behaviors due to the fear their children will turn against them and the courts will strip them of their roles as parents if they do not. A parent in a custody battle may shy away from telling little Johnny and Jane that they need to work harder in school because that parent might never see them again as a result. All it takes for that to happen is the other parent making false accusations of emotional abuse or using the corrective comments as propaganda in a parental alienation brainwashing campaign.
Most of our readers know people who have lost their children to parental alienation, false child abuse allegations, or bribery by a selfish parent. Many of them have had it happen to them.
High-conflict parents driven by high-conflict courts create narcissistic children who will engage in their own selfish and high-conflict behaviors in the future. Such children are often emotionally immature, suffer from increased insecurities, and are frequently exposed to damaging conflicts between parents that teaches them severe conflict is normal and they can’t count on the people who supposedly love them. Their troubled lives mean they cannot effectively focus on education, taking reasonable risks, and “just being kids” like most children used to be able to do.
The parental warfare also means that educational enrichment opportunities are fewer for them as their parents are paying their life savings to the divorce industry that is destroying their families and are so busy writing declarations, testifying, scheming, and/or defending against false allegations that they pay much less attention to their children.
Family Conflict Impedes Academic Achievement
The connection between divorce and poor school performance is not a new discovery. The 1991 study Academic performance in children of divorce: psychological resilience and vulnerability found children of divorce suffered lower academic performance compared to children of intact families. Yet the researchers noted that not all children of divorce fared equally poorly. There appeared to be two subgroups of children of divorce, those who were not far different from their peers in intact families and those who performed drastically worse. I call the second subgroup the “children of conflict” to emphasize that it is not merely a divorce that is causing the trouble, it is a conflict-prone family life that leaves children feeling very insecure.
Why do the children of conflict fare so much more poorly? There is more than one answer to this.
First, the level of conflict they experience hurts their emotions and mental health, leaving them less able to focus on schooling. If you’re being taught to hate your other parent and don’t know when you’ll see dad or mom or grandma and grandpa next, a lot of your attention and mental energy is being wasted on conflicts and feelings of insecurity rather than learning.
Second, the economic resources sucked out of their families into the greedy hands of the divorce industry and the government probably would have been spent in part on enrichment activities. Some parents might choose camps, others may choose educational vacations, others arts and crafts or fix-it projects, and still others might work part-time to spend more time with their kids. But American style divorce means that all of these options are largely lost except for the very wealthy.
Third, even if somehow the money wasted doesn’t preclude opportunities, the wasteful court process causes many parents to spend countless hours hiring and consulting with lawyers, writing court papers, testifying, and attending hearings and mediations. The courts often pile on mandatory counseling and parenting classes in a deceitful attempt to make it look like they are trying to pour water on the conflict when in reality they are doing all they can to light a fire under both parents to scare them to death and motivate them to pour their time and money into the war. After all of this, there is a lot less time remaining for the children and a lot less energy for them, too. Parents are emotionally burned out by the warfare and it drastically worsens the quality of time many of them have with their children. Some parents no longer see their children at all despite all their efforts. The children suffer badly from this.
Cycle of Abuse and Poor Performance
Kids exposed to extensive family conflict are more prone to develop mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. All of these interfere with academic performance. They are also more likely to have difficulty with trusting others and having successful relationships. Anybody who can remember being a teenager or young adult probably recalls the hours spent pining over some confusing love interest. Kids who can’t trust, are self-centered, and are mentally unhealthy are likely to spend even more time pining away, not just about potential love interests but also about when they will get to see each parent next, whether they parents will keep fighting, and so forth. This is stressful time that could have been better spent on education.
When these kids grow up and have families of their own, they are far more likely to repeat the destructive examples they observed in their youth. The result is that the problems pass from generation to generation.
Current School Reform Efforts
Educational reformers like Michelle Rhee of Washington D.C. are making progress on firing abusive and poorly performing teachers, shutting down failed schools, and raising student performance. It appears they are well-motivated and are having some success. But reformers like her are dogged by criticism at every step of the way, even when she is right and is measurably improving the really bad schools in the city.
Rhee has also told a national business magazine that some of the 266 teachers laid off in October’s budget reductions had sex with children or had hit them. “I got rid of teachers who had hit children, who had had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school. Why wouldn’t we take those things into consideration?” she said. At the time, she did not provide evidence of her accusations nor comment when asked why these accused teachers were allowed to be in the district prior to the dismissals. Union leadership responded that an apology from Rhee was owed to the 266 teachers for making such remarks which, they stated unequivocally, were without basis in facts. On September 2010, a lawsuit was filed by a high school student who said she had been impregnated by her teacher in 2008. Paternity tests confirmed the teacher was the father of the student’s child.
Can Rhee Succeed At Massively Boosting Student Performance?
Let’s say Rhee somehow succeeds at firing every bad teacher, hiring plenty of good new ones, and cuts wasteful bureaucratic overhead so that tax dollars are actually being spent on education rather than fancy titles, fancy offices, corruption, and all the other ways that government wastes taxpayer money on itself.
Do you think that Washington D.C. students are going to become star performers if she accomplishes all of that?
Kids in D.C. suffer from a much higher rate of conflict-prone and insecure families. Single-parent households, poverty, teen pregnancies, and mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse are all quite common. Every one of these problems is a substantial impediment to educational attainment.
All of these problems flow directly from the failed American family policy perpetrated by the US government and its political subdivisions.
As an example, consider the AFDC program that ran from 1936 to 1996 and was intended to provide a financial base for kids in single-parent homes (i.e., homes without fathers). The way it was run created incentives to destroy families. Among other destructive outcomes, mothers were expected to kick fathers out of their homes or their AFDC payments were at risk if they stayed. The government was clearly sending the message that money is more important than having two parents.
AFDC was ended in 1996, but there have been plenty of other anti-family policies that have come in to fill the vacuum.
For instance, VAWA is ostensibly supposed to help stop child abuse. Yet it creates an environment in which any angry and malicious mom can have the father of her children turned into a criminal banned from seeing the children on almost a moment’s notice. Such a banned father might not understand how he can be stripped out of his children’s lives with nothing but baseless accusations. So Dad calls to check to see if the kids need help with homework, next thing you know he’s being arrested and prosecuted and put in prison for several months as according to VAWA a falsely accused father who calls his children is obviously a criminal and should be imprisoned.
Moms are increasingly being affected by this insanity, too, but this is being covered up the the male-bashing feminist thought police who are willing to sacrifice some number of their sisters to skewer as many men as possible.
A full explanation of how the US government is destroying families and creating bad environments for raising children is important but is far beyond what could be covered in a single article. One of the better books on the topic is Taken into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood, Marriage, and the Family. We have a review of this highly recommended book to give you an idea of what it covers. Summing it up, the government is attempting to take tighter control of the American population by destroying families and social institutions that are obstacles to government domination. In the process, it is violating the US Constitution, ignoring due process, treating people as guilty until proven innocent, and inventing new “crimes” so that it can throw virtually anybody in prison at any time. The problems go to the very core of the values held dear by the founders of the United States.
US Divorce Rate Related To Family Destruction
The United States has the highest annual divorce rate in the world. The US specializes in destroying families and making its citizens subservient to the government. All the huff-and-puff from the “family values” politicians is largely posturing and lies — they almost universally fail to do anything that really stops the destruction of families. Divorce and the resulting problem of warring parents are probably the biggest contributors to family conflict and insecurity.
Now an astute reader may point out that Washington D.C. has a lower divorce rate than many other areas in the US and therefore my connection between divorce, family conflict and insecurity, and poor academic performance looks iffy.
(from U.S. Divorce Statistics)
In 2004, the state with the highest reported divorce rate was Nevada, at 6.4 (per 1,000). Arkansas was a close second, with a divorce rate of 6.3, followed by Wyoming at 5.3. The District of Columbia had the lowest reported divorce rate, at 1.7, followed by Massachusetts at 2.2 and Pennsylvania at 2.5. (Figures were not complete for California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, or Oklahoma.)
But consider why D.C. has a lower divorce rate. It is in part because so many people there are having children without getting married. No marriage, no divorce. It’s that simple.
It’s clear that you can have a low divorce rate and a low rate of two-parent homes at the same time. Simply have a bunch of teenage girls have babies and not have the fathers living with them. D.C. is that kind of place.
“As the divorce rate soared after 1960, three other major trends started to emerge that were part of the 20th century’s transformation in pair-bonding in the Western world: the rate of marriage decreased, while the rates of cohabitation without marriage and nonmarital births increased . . . . This nonmarital birthrate increase is particularly impressive because it occurred at the same time that women in the West had more contraceptive choice than ever before in the history of the human species.”
26 percent of U.S. children under the age of 18 lived in a single-parent home.
12 percent of U.S. children live in single parent families with householders who had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 9 percent of children living with neither parent and 30 percent of children living in a married-couple family.
Children growing up in a single-parent family are twice as likely to have a child before the age of 20 than those raised in a two-parent family.
Children growing up in a single-parent family are one and a half times as likely to be out of school and out of work in their late teens and early 20s as those who grow up in a two-parent family.
While the number of single-mother families has grown dramatically, so has the gap between their incomes and those of married-couple families. “From 1969 to 1999, the income gap between [U.S.] families maintained by women with no husband present and married-couple families widened. During that time, [U.S.] families maintained by women with no husband present had a smaller percentage increase in median income (32 percent) than that of married-couple families (44 percent).”
There should be no question that kids growing up outside of environments with two involved cooperative parents are going to suffer.
Is Having Married Parents the Key to Children’s Success?
Unlike some, I am not convinced that it is marriage in and of itself that helps children be more successful. I suspect it has more to do with the children getting the benefit of two loving and involved parents along with their extended families who nurture, teach, socialize, and provide for the children in different ways. The benefits of increased economic resources also likely has something to do with the difference in results.
Kids get a greater diversity of experience to different ways of thinking, interests, and ways of living when they have two involved parents rather than one. Having two involved parents also means it is more likely that the kids will be around somebody with an advanced education who will encourage them to pursue college and graduate school. If their parents get along, even if they are not married, they also see that people can cooperate and that it benefits the children. They may also learn successful coping and negotiating strategies for when family members are not in total agreement. This is likely to help them cope with difficulties in their own relationships, be it with friends, family members, and love interests.
But American family policy does not encourage intact families. It doesn’t encourage parents to get along, either. Instead, it rewards malicious parents who kick the other parent out of the home, falsely accuse them of being criminals or abusers, and keep the children from seeing them. VAWA, divorce laws, the pervasive tendency for courts to issue sole custody orders, and a child support system that rewards abusive parental alienators with money all hurt children and rightly infuriate the target parents, causing them to fight for justice and expend large quantities of time and money doing so. These problems are part of the systemic abuse against children and families by the government.
The single biggest enemy of American children is the American government and its destructive policies towards families.
Problems with underperforming American school kids cannot be fully fixed without fixing the broken family policies in this country. Any politician who advocates school reform without also advocating reform of this country’s abusive family policies, laws, and courts is uninformed, a coward unwilling to fight the strong lobby of divorce industry profiteers, or has some agenda that is not good for the nation and its children.
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