Family culture determines school success

Responsible, caring parents raise good students, writes Scott Carroll, a teacher turned IT consultant, in the Baltimore Sun. Carroll’s mother didn’t always have money to pay the utility bill or the phone bill, but she managed to pay half-tuition so he could attend a private elementary school. His father didn’t live with the family, but stayed involved in his son’s life.

. . .  you do not need a college degree to know how to insist that your children read books, or at least sit with their faces in a book through some prescribed period of time every day. You do not need a college degree to read to your children persistently. You do not need a college education to know how to require your children to sit at a certain table every school night for a certain prescribed period and at least seem to be completing their assignments. You do not need a college degree to demand of yourself and of your family that standard English, or some earnest attempt thereof, be spoken in the home.

“African-American culture — my culture — has become, progressively, a culture of the athlete, the entertainer, the hustler and the laborer,” Carroll laments.

I had the privilege of teaching for four years in an immaculate building that had just undergone a $27 million restoration, a Baltimore City vocational/technical high school complete with the kind of expensive, computer-aided manufacturing machinery I had seen on campus as an industrial engineering student at Morgan State University and in industry as an industrial engineering intern. Many students showed their appreciation for the very expensive, potentially high-quality education they were being offered for free by setting that building on fire almost weekly, and by cursing freely in the vicinity of and often directly at teachers and administrators alike. When attempts were made at discipline and parents were called in, the parents often exhibited this same behavior while searching for any and every way to blame teachers and the school for their children’s trouble.

An interested, cooperative student will learn in a shack with an old textbook, Carroll writes.

But as long as we continue to send non-studious, socially and intellectually ill-prepared children into our schools — as long as we continue to expect our teachers and our schools, as opposed to our parents and our families, to rear our children — our students and schools will continue to underperform, no matter how much we spend or how many teachers we employ.

“Money is not the problem,” he concludes. “The problem is our lack of a coherent, robust and healthy culture.”

So, what do we do with bad parents’ children?

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    We may–one can hope–be approaching the point where the question can be discussed.

  2. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Possibly. We can hope, anyway.

    Fortunately, once we’ve managed to get people to pay attention, the solution is obvious: end compulsory schooling, maybe completely or maybe just for kids older than, say, 12. That might release the legions onto the streets (Cal’s oft-repeated prediction), but it would also make the schools into something that could be valued rather than resented.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    The legions have only about seven hours of one hundred eighty days, presuming their attendance is perfect, to be absent from the streets.
    If various folks want to characterize the schools’ function as preventive detention, they ought to both say so and make it more effective.
    Instead, they imply threats of racial minorities running amok. That’s Jesse Jackson’s territory. I think he has that trademarked.

  4. The military seems to do a decent job taking young men from disadvantaged backgrounds and turning them from near-thugs into highly disciplined soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The military gives them things that most of them have been lacking in their lives- strong male role models and a code of conduct that is strictly enforced.

    The KIPP schools have adopted some of these practices and just look at all the criticism they have received as a result. It doesn’t matter to many liberals that these techniques *WORK*.

    • CrimsonWife…

      “It doesn’t matter to many liberals that the techniques *WORK*”

      Really… you made a good point that this liberal agreed with… and then you had to go and generalize everyone to the left of you as not caring about results.
      How would you feel if I made some statement like “Conservatives are all about belief and faith in their ideology, and don’t respond to facts, reality, empiricism.” I’m sure we’d get a howl about how that is a stupid generalization.

      You made a good point… why muddy it with a stupid throwaway line?

      • Did you miss the qualifier “many”? If you said to me that “many conservatives place faith about empirical scientific evidence”, then I’d have to agree with you. Many conservatives, sadly, do ignore scientific evidence when it gets in the way of a literal reading of the Bible. And many liberals, sadly, ignore the fact that military techniques work with disadvantaged boys because of their antipathy towards those techniques.

  5. Obi-Wandreas says:

    Similar sentiments in this Buffalo News column.

    What many fail to realize is that good study skills/manners/interpersonal skills/behavior is not a result of success in adult life, but a precursor to it. There are many very poor parents who are raising their kids very well; it is highly unlikely that poverty will extend into the next generation. Inversely, those who have a sense of entitlement – that the world owes them things, and they have no responsibility to themselves or others, can doom several generations of their family to never reach their human potential.

    The next big issue is what to do with the kids of bad parents. The first step, however, should be obvious – get them away from the children of good parents. Make it so that well-behaved, hard working students do not have to share a room with sociopaths.

    You can very easily run large classrooms with well-behaved kids. You can then break the others down into smaller groups, where they are much easier to manage. When they’re actually getting individual attention, and not feeling like they have to perform in front of a crowd, there are a lot more that you can reach.

    Myself, I would happily take some small groups of difficult students. In many ways, those are the most rewarding of all.

    • The next big issue is what to do with the kids of bad parents.

      If they are on public assistance, all kinds of incentives are possible.  Just cut them off if they won’t shape up, or demand that they move to “reservations” to keep their Section 8 if they or their children are criminal.  The problem may not actually be lessened, but the costs borne by the rest of society in defending itself against it will be.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    The military is currently unable to take in slightly more than half of the age-appropriate cohort due to physical, mental, or moral failings. Possibly a third of the group is militarily useful. The kids at issue here are in the other group. There is no other insitution in society which can, or should be allowed, to do such things mandatorily.
    Recall McNamara’s Hundred Thousand. It was an attempt to draft folks not quite up to scratch. The standards were lowered, and lowered more in urban areas. These guys were worse than useless. We figured it was a way to shift casualties to families who were too dumb to vote. Nope. War is a middle-class business.

  7. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I also saw an article the other day that the military is currently at pretty much its ideal strength, so they’re actually UPPING the requirements for entry.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    Check out Theodore Dalrymple’s Life at the Bottom or Our Culture, What’s Left of it for some further thoughts on this topic. 🙂

  9. Culture matters and the culture of irresponsibility and dependance is particularly toxic. The associated phenomenon of kids having kids exponentially increases the problem. In modern cultures, young teenagers are unsuited for parenthood. That should be delayed until after completion of education (HS or better, with job skills), stable employment and marriage. Somehow, we need to apply social pressure to discourage procreation among those who are unable to support and raise kids decently.

  10. P.S. The fact that illegitimacy exploded AFTER the existence of reliable birth control (the Pill) says nothing good about the culture that condoned it. Parenthood shouldn’t be about personal freedom but about doing what is best for kids and kids from stable, married families do better on the whole gamut of measures, even if the family is poor. However, married families are much less likely to be/stay poor.

  11. The influence of family members, role models and peers is significant and beyond serious question. Malcolm Gladwell offered some insight into this in The Tipping Point. You can get a brief synopsis of this at:
    The breakdown of the American family and its effect on schools in the 1960s is also documented here:
    Mothers matter. Fathers matter. Communities matter.

  12. Foobarista says:

    On the military, here’s an article talking about the military being vastly more “picky” about who it allows to enlist:

  13. Large chunks of our cities have never recovered from the 60s. There was widespread property destruction and other crimes and law-abiding, productive residents fled to the suburbs, taking their talents and their businesses with them. The government replaced them with housing projects, welfare and social programs; all of which have had lots of negative, unintended consequences.

  14. Solution?
    Mandatory government funded boarding school for students who can’t hack it in regular public schools.

    • Michael E. Lopez says:

      I really hope that’s your attempt at satire, SuperSub.

      • It would probably be cheaper to fund boarding schools than to keep paying for all the time spent in jail and on various government assistance programs.

        • There are some whose culture teaches hate of everything that makes the USA (and their schooling) possible.  For those, a boarding school in a different country, or a different continent, may be appropriate.

    • Public boarding schools *could* be a good investment. Not necessarily particularly, or exclusively, for miscreants, but for disadvantaged or academically marginal students. The SEED charter school in Washington, D.C. is such a public boarding school (of course it needs private funding to cover the additional services), and the invrestment could well offset later costs in social, medical and correctional services (it would be worth getting some longitudinal data here)

      60 minutes features this school here:

      A possible major advantage, over day schools, however well-staffed and offering effective teaching, is that the school removes studebnts from the culture of “the ‘hood” and creates one of achievement, discipline and goal-setting.

      Judith Rich Harris, in “The Nurture Assumption,” profiled an inner-city first grade teacher (back in the 50’s-70’s) whose astonishing success rate with severely disadvantaged kids she (Harris) attributed to creating such a classroom climate. The implications are definitely food for thought.

  15. The disruptive seem to fall into 2 groups:

    – the aimless, lost kids, who’ve not had that parent leadership. Those kids MIGHT benefit from a boarding school setup or a separate school with strong expectations and a structured model, IF there were a conscious effort to provide positive male role models. Why male? That’s what almost all of them lack.
    – the truly thuggish – I honestly don’t have any idea what to do with this crowd. But putting good kids at risk (physically, emotionally, and academically) trying to salvage everyone isn’t the answer.