Does good parenting produce inequality? – LancasterOnline

Something about Justice Anthony Kennedy’s rationale in ruling in favor of gay marriage is sticking in my craw a bit, along with a tidbit from a totally unrelated piece (which, as I’ll attempt to demonstrate momentarily, isn’t really unrelated…)

Recall that Kennedy’s rationale was based, in part, by his assertion that kids are better off as a result of coming up in two-parent households:


There’s a good bit of research to back this up. Here’s the Brookings Institution, for one:

Children raised by single mothers are more likely to fare worse on a number of dimensions, including their school achievement, their social and emotional development, their health and their success in the labor market. They are at greater risk of parental abuse and neglect (especially from live-in boyfriends who are not their biological fathers), more likely to become teen parents and less likely to graduate from high school or college. Not all children raised in single parent families suffer these adverse outcomes; it is simply that the risks are greater for them.

As you get your dander up, re-read the final sentence: This isn’t true for all kids from single-parent families, but it is true for a statistical majority.

A stable, loving home is key to kids’ well-being. This the U.S. Supreme Court itself.

And for an example of how an unstable home – and, per Kennedy, the more “difficult and uncertain” life it can create – check out this blog post over at the Washington Post, from a teacher who “sees the difference in educational privilege every day.” Money is one aspect of that – kids who don’t have/whose communities don’t have money are at a disadvantage. But what’s one reason for that poverty?

From the blog post:

Both of his parents are in prison. Or, one of his parents is in prison and the other is dead. We can’t quite get the full story from him….


There is the struggle to give students the tools they need to fight their way through a system that is designed to hold them back from the moment they take their first breath, from the moment they try to write their first paragraph. As The Washington Post report states: “A growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up. They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.” They are, overall, less likely to succeed.

All of it’s true, no doubt. But when we start suggesting that kids – families, like the ones Kennedy cites – are “privileged,” and here “privilege” suggests an unfair advantage – boy, we’re roller stating into slippery territory.

It’s one thing to talk about money. There certainly are going to be educational opportunities for rich kids that poor kids can’t even imagine. But if having “support at home” conveys privilege, it suggests that families that provide this support, where parents are present, where the home is stable and where mom and dad (or per Kennedy, dad and dad) make sure they’re checking the homework and reviewing the spelling tests – it suggests these parents are actually doing something wrong, if their kids reap advantages from this attentiveness.

In fact – doesn’t Justice Anthony Kennedy himself, the Supreme Court itself, say exactly this? That good parenting actually creates inequality, because a stable marriage creates more stability and predictability?

And if our goal is to utterly stamp out inequality, as seems to be the case these days – how is this playing field to be leveled?

We can’t mandate good parenting, and as long as some kids have it and some don’t, there will be disparities – which, ultimately, we’ll try to paper over with more money. But as I so often ask in this space – where’s that money coming from?

I don’t know that the blog’s author means to suggest attentive parents are doing anything wrong. But there’s a certain inescapable logic to it, as actually articulated last month in this widely-cited piece about Australian philosophers who, in fact, declared that “One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’ ”

They go on to suggest that, well, they suppose it’s OK for parents to read to their kids, but if it’s equality we want, parents shouldn’t be able to send their kids to private schools.

It’s all a thought experiment – but cuts too close to the quick. If marriage, if stable families convey advantages – and if “privilege” is always and everywhere a problem to be “solved” – how are we not headed in this direction?

No child mired in poverty deserves his or her plight. But if stable marriages, stable family convey advantages, maybe we shouldn’t tear that down – but rather, suggest that it’s the exact thing we need more of.

Source: Single Parenting - Google News

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