St. Paul Public Schools made national news after a variety of groups exposed the chaos and violence erupting in the district following the work of the Pacific Educational Group (PEG), a San Francisco-based consulting firm that believes:
"It is critical for educators to address racial issues in order to uncover personal and institutional biases that prevent all students, and especially students of color, from reaching their fullest potential."
Essentially, PEG argues that the achievement gap between minority and white students is the result of "white privilege" and institutional racism.
Besides using the disparities in reading and math proficiency as proof of racism, the group also points to significantly higher rates of disciplinary action, including suspensions, for black students compared to white students.
Some of their solutions? Do away with suspensions and discipline, host teacher-training sessions on "white privilege", and mainstream nearly all students, including those with emotional and behavior disorders.
After many years of PEG working in St. Paul Public Schools, what are the results? First, the achievement gap is actually worse now than any time since 2001:
The second result has been chaos and violence:
"'My second-grader's class is the most dysfunctional classroom I have ever witnessed with my own two eyes,' she says. 'I have never even heard of classrooms like Ms. [Tina] Woods'. She has maybe six extreme behavior students in one class. I've seen them punch her. I've seen them walk around the halls. I've seen her try to read to the class and it took her an hour and a half to read two pages. It's too much.'" -Daeona Griffin (Saint Paul Public Schools Parent)
Racism, chaos, and violence aren't easy to talk about, certainly not today as news of the evil perpetrated in South Carolina sinks in. Our souls ache as we learn about the victims and listen to their survivors. May God be with them.
Clearly, it is undeniable that racism still exists. But when it comes to the achievement gaps in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools, should we solely focus upon perceived racism? Could the misdiagnosis of the problem actually be the cause for a worsening achievement gap and deteriorating learning environments?
After receiving data about out-of-wedlock birthrates in Minneapolis and St. Paul from the Minnesota of Department of Health, it would appear that other factors than race are at work. Consider the charts below, particularly the differences in out-of-wedlock rates between native and non-native African-Americans:
While none of those birthrates are any good, some are simply awful. In fact, they're downright depressing. They also point towards what's likely behind the achievement gap and the kind of conversations we need to have as a society about families and schools.
"There is a great deal of evidence that children from single parent homes have worse outcomes on both academic and economic measures than children from two parent families. As the authors note, there is a vast inequality of both financial resources and parental time and attention between one- and two-parent families."
The study also states that,
"...most one parent families are headed by mothers not fathers, and boys appear to do relatively worse in these families, perhaps due to paternal absence."
David Popenoe and many others have made that point abundantly clear,
"Father absence is a major force lying behind many of the attention-grabbing issues that dominate news: crime and delinquency, premature sexuality, and out-of-wedlock teen births, deteriorating educational achievement, depression, substance abuse, and alienation among teenagers, and the growing number of women and children in poverty."
The family is not a popular topic in our culture. Fatherhood and patriarchy are especially unpopular topics. While it may make many adults uncomfortable, many kids need the conversation to happen.
I grew up with a single-mom who cleaned houses. She worked very hard and I love her deeply. Through my childhood I saw just how hard it is for a single mom. I also came to recognize, even more so now that I am a father, the impact of not having a dad around. It makes a big difference.
We must recognize that if the two-parent family is the actual foundation of society, then everything rests upon it. We will never overcome the challenges confronting us if we ignore out-of-wedlock birthrates nor can we expect the current approaches of our schools to work if their assumptions about the problems are all wrong.
Education will have to play a major role in reversing the cycle of out-of-wedlock birthrates. But to do so, educators are going to have to reexamine their underlying philosophies and approaches, and even our current structure of education. For that to happen, society is going to have to change a lot of popular attitudes, including those towards men and fathers.
There isn't time to waste, we need our dads back.