COLUMN: Will success come from mandatory school attendance?

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By David Floyd | State Representative

Every parent wants his or her child to succeed in life. Early on, parents can help by making sure that their children can read. And they need to keep them in school. This is the parent’s responsibility, but some in Frankfort want to take that responsibility away from them by mandating school attendance until they’re 18 years old.
I’m sure everyone would prefer that their children avoid a life lived in poverty. We know, from exhaustive statistical analysis, just how to avoid that trap. Here are the basic steps: 1) finish high school, 2) get a full-time job, and 3) wait until you are married to have children.
In their book, “Creating an Opportunity Society,” authors Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill observed, “Families that adhere to these norms or expectations have a very high probability of entering the middle class. Indeed, adhering to all three norms virtually eliminates the possibility of a family living below the poverty line.”
So we have the formula, and the ability to solve the problem: start with the core values of discipline and hard work, taught or observed in the family that raised them; and then add ambition to acquire and maintain the skills that are needed. But, where does the “ambition” come from?
For most men, ambition is more highly developed in marriage. Marriage promotes responsibility and habits that result in increased productivity. (Married men earn more than single men with comparable education and work histories.)
Children who grow up in two-parent households are more likely to finish high school and college, maintain full-time employment, and enjoy a stable life themselves.
Laying the foundation for these core values in a young person is the responsibility of the family. The family is the basic unit of society — and this is not a cliché. (When I speak of family, I mean a person with his or her spouse and children.) When the family breaks down, doesn’t it follow that society deteriorates as well?
We know that marriage is in decline, and single-parent households are on the rise. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that both trends are reflected in an increase in Americans living in poverty.
These facts present a serious problem for our country. If, as the data show, the traditional family is the foundation of American success, then America has an interest in reversing the trend. Is your government doing anything to reverse this trend?
I’m afraid not. It seems, rather, that we are hastening the demise of the traditional family. We discourage marriage by encouraging behavior that is supported through government policies. Government steps in to replace the father by providing adequate financial assistance to single mothers, no matter how many children they have out of wedlock. That assistance can end if the mother gets married or goes to work. Do you see the perverse incentive here?
When men and women are not held accountable by family responsibilities, as in a marriage, they are “liberated” from the ambition that is so essential to their success. Both man and woman become more dependent on government. People who come to depend on government tend to vote for those who will maintain or increase the support provided by government.
Meanwhile, American taxpayers must support an increasing number of those in poverty. They are diminished, as more and more of their property is legally confiscated to support a growing entitlement class.
What can we do? While we can work to reform policies that discourage marriage, we can also emphasize marriage. It starts in the family, but can be supported by elected officials and in the schools.
How many successful campaigns have been undertaken in the schools? I remember my daughter, a fourth-grader at the time, announcing every time we got in our car “Seat belts, daddy.” In school, children are taught the dangers of cigarettes, the importance of recycling; why not marriage, which is more consequential to their success in life?
Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, suggests that we tell children of the disastrous consequences of having a child out of wedlock, how it almost certainly will lead to a life of poverty. Run a public ad campaign, declaring marriage as the best tool for fighting poverty. Force public birth-control clinics, where poor and working-class women go for birth control, to provide information about the importance of marriage. And reduce the rewards of single parenthood in the welfare system.
The positive aspects of such a campaign will be healthy for our children and beneficial to our economy and culture. We all want what’s best for our children, and it’s been proven that they have their best chance in life if they 1) finish high school, 2) get a full-time job, and 3) wait until they are married to have children.
This is the key to a bright future for our children. And it’s good news for America.
The best part of my job is hearing from you. This Saturday’s “Coffee with Dave” is in Culvertown at Culver’s Kountry Kwik Mart. We start at 10. But if you want to talk on the phone call me at home or leave a message at 1-800-372-7181.