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Tony Dungy Is Right: Troubled Kids Don’t Just Need Better Schools — They Need Fathers

The children we are attempting to educate are an extension of their original educational environment: their families.


When Tony Dungy noted on Monday that the reason so many young boys end up in trouble is “not socioeconomic. It’s not racial. It’s not education,” but because “95 percent of these boys did not grow up with their dad,” leftists were quick to label the former NFL coach a “fascist political prop” for his argument in defense of fatherhood. But I know from personal experience the challenges caused by a neglectful father, and Dungy is right that addressing the decline of invested fathers is key to resolving a myriad of social ills.

The way we discuss education in America is generally from two narrow perspectives: educational access and institutional funding. The people incessantly pushing educational access believe any child can succeed if you put him in the right institution. The people who love counting the per-pupil spending of a given school district equate monetary spending to educational success.

Neither perspective is wrong, but the problem is that they are narrow, and we need to view education through a broader lens that doesn’t just involve the government, teachers, and choice of educational institutions. Children are an extension of their original educational environment: their families.

The Biggest Culprit Is Broken Families

I’ve kept an embarrassing secret from most of the people who have known me: I almost didn’t graduate from high school. To be more precise, I was not able to walk beside my classmates as they received their long-sought diplomas. Instead, I was given a set of assignments that I had to complete before the summer was over, and upon their completion, I received my diploma.

This situation wasn’t abnormal for me, as I had to attend summer school my sophomore and junior years in high school as well. I attended a decent public high school in a middle-class neighborhood and had good teachers who, for the most part, were willing to help — yet I still struggled.

As a child from a single-parent home, home life was at times unstable due to the unfair load of responsibilities heaped onto my mother’s shoulders. We moved constantly and were homeless twice before I entered high school. I excelled in elementary school, but every time we had to move, my confidence and motivation for education diminished. Even worse, my father was never there to help lift my low confidence.

As a proponent of school choice, I believe in the importance of giving children of all economic classes the best possible schooling environment to increase their potential prosperity as adults. But at times I wonder if school choice will be a Band-Aid for the largest issue facing children who are failing educationally: broken families.

It’s Not Empowering for Women to Raise Kids Without their Father

We avoid talking about broken families because you can’t legislate a happy home and the government can’t welfare its way into a healthy environment for children. Even my stating that a single-parent home is a broken home could be viewed as controversial by some because we’ve convinced ourselves that this new-age method of raising children provides only negligible downsides. We spend so much time wanting to empower single mothers that we ignore how it disadvantages their children.

Forgive me, but I don’t see how needing to work two jobs or 50-plus-hour work weeks to make ends meet was empowering for my mother. How is sleeping in a homeless shelter only a negligible downside in comparison to a healthy two-parent home?

We know what the truth is, but we are timid about appearing to offend the millions of mothers in our society for their role in this outcome. Instead, we encourage family destruction instead of being vigilant about the necessity of proper family planning for potential fathers and mothers.

Good Schooling Is No Replacement for Good Parenting

The uncomfortable truth is that poor family planning leads to poor home environments, economically and educationally. A poor home environment is not conducive to encouraging the proper attributes to excel in education, and it puts more pressure on the educators to make up for the deficiencies of the child’s home environment.

When a child can’t focus due to hunger, the school must make up for this. When children are disruptive in a classroom setting because they are being raised in an environment that lacks discipline, the teachers are tasked with the extra burden of becoming their temporary disciplinarians.

We often talk about children from disenfranchised neighborhoods, but they are disenfranchised because their homes are as well. A neighborhood is nothing without families and for many poorer areas in America, children are being raised by an individual, not a family.

Expecting children who live in these environments to be educationally self-motivated in the face of a frequently absent working mother and a part-time or disinterested father is unlikely. Parents are the original educators for children, and they are the ones who can either inspire educational curiosity within the child or deflate it.

School Choice Isn’t Enough

I felt alone when it came to my education and as every year passed by, I wanted out of school and cared less about my grades. With a constantly working mother and a neglectful father, I was expected to motivate myself to care about my education, but no one was around to understand the struggles I was experiencing when I gave it real effort. Imagine trying your best but still consistently failing to keep up with everyone else; it was no wonder I felt defeated.

I advocate for school choice because I understand there may be that possibility of a child like me who struggled to find the right teacher to inspire him to keep pushing that boulder up the hill instead of letting it fall back on him, leaving him feeling crushed. But I am realistic enough to understand that putting all the burden of educational inspiration and discipline onto teachers is not only unfair to the teachers but unlikely to result in success for children in the broader scope.

Yes, school choice has its place in providing competition against potentially corrupt government-run schools, teachers unions who place their interests over the success of children, and ideologically driven teachers and administrators. But in areas of the country where home life is broken, these issues within the public school system are only compounding the existing problem, not creating the problem.

The real problem was created before these children entered school.