| || Essays on Civic Renewal |
National Commission on Civic Renewal Second Plenary Session Washington, D.C.
May 19, 1997
Co-Chairmen William J. Bennett & Senator Sam Nunn
Executive Director William A. Galston
The National Commission on Civic Renewal, made possible by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, includes individuals across the political spectrum and from many different walks of life, all of whom have demonstrated leadership in their fields and a commitment to the betterment of our country. The purpose of the Commission is to assess the condition of civic engagement in the United States today and to propose specific actionsto be undertaken by the public, private, and voluntary sectors as well as by individualsthat could improve this condition.
The transcript from the Commission's Second Plenary Session follows. Click here for the transcript of the First Plenary Session.
Panel One: Faith & Character
Panel Two: Community Service & Community Action
Panel Three: Youth
Panel Four: Politics & Civil Society
Panel One: Faith & Character
President, National Fatherhood Initiative
Principal and Students, St. Bernard's Grade School
Nancy Van Gulick
Trainer, Character Counts! Coalition
WILLIAM GALSTON: I would like to bring the second plenary session of the National Commission on Civic Renewal to order, and welcome Commissioners, Senior Advisors, witnesses, and guests to this session. I want to take a minute to acknowledge a very substantial delegation from the Pew Charitable Trusts, whose support and continuing interest has made this possiblea delegation led by Pew President Rebecca Rimel and member of the board Tom Langfitt. Thank you very much for your support and your continuing interest, and we very much hope that we will be worthy of your trust.
As I said, this is the second plenary session. At the first, we heard from a wide range of academic experts; and what we learned was sobering but not, hopefully, discouraging. We learned, or rather we were confirmed in our view, that participation in official political institutions has declined. It is clear that trust has declined. It is clear that the American people are deeply concerned about the moral condition of our country, and they have subjective reasons for that concern. But we also learned two other things that are encouraging. Number one: belief in the American ideal, the basic principles of our political, social, and moral order, is alive and well and strong. And number two, that the associational life of this country, although changing in various unexpected ways, is still vigorous and vibrant. And that last point the continuing and, in some respects, renewed vigor of our associational life serves as the bridge to today's second session.
We'll have four panels representing twelve reports from the front, if you will models of success from around the country. Each panel will have three organizations represented. Each organization will have 10 minutes to use as it sees fit for opening presentations, after which we will have roughly an hour remaining on each panel for questions from the Commissioners and responses from witnesses. So, without further ado: the first panel, focusing on issues of faith and character. And our first witness is Wade Horn, President of the National Fatherhood Initiative. Wade, the floor is yours.
WADE HORN: Thank you, Bill, and I want to thank the Commission for the invitation to come and address you all this morning. I am going to talk a bit about character, its relationship to fathers, and a bit about the work of the National Fatherhood Initiative.
Although there are clearly limits to the Lockean notion of tabula rasa when it comes to child development, it is, I think, reasonably obvious to assume that character is not an inborn trait in children. Behavior such as truthfulness, responsibility, and integrity are not innate but in fact must be developed. The question then is, Where does character come from? Well, under the best of circumstances, all of society's institutions conspire to teach children good character. Institutions like the schools, churches, and neighborhoodsthe village, if you willall conspire to teach children good character. But the most important institution for teaching children character is the family.
How does the family do this? Well, the two ways that families are important to the development of character and to civil society are, first, that they propagate the human species, and second, they are the primary socialization agent for children. When families fail in either of these two tasks, civilization itself is in peril. I will leave it to others to talk to you about how families propagate the species, and I will simply restrict my remarks to how it is that families socialize children.
Socialization can be defined as the process by which an individual acquires the behaviors, attitudes, values, and customs which are regarded as desirable and appropriate by society. Proper socialization requires the development of the ability to delay or to inhibit impulse gratification in order to follow the rules of society. Well-socialized children have learned not to strike out at others to get what they want; undersocialized children have not. Well-socialized children have learned to cooperate and share with others; under-socialized children have not. And well-socialized children have learned to cooperate and share and listen to and obey the directions of legitimate authority figures, and under-socialized children have not. In short, what well-socialized children have developed is the capacity to inhibit or delay impulse gratification, and much of what we describe as good character or virtue reflects this ability to delay or inhibit impulse gratification.
When you tell the truth despite the near-certainty that in doing so you'll experience negative consequences, you are inhibiting the impulse to lie in order to avoid unpleasant-ness. When you show charity to others, you are inhibiting the impulse to behave selfishly. When you abstain from sexual intercourse outside of marriage, you are inhibiting the impulse to obtain sexual gratification. Good character, then, reflects a well-socialized individual, which reflects an individual who is able to inhibit or delay impulse gratification. Now a civil society is totally dependent upon the vast majority of its adult citizenry having developed this ability. Absent a significant majority of such well-socialized adults, store-keepers would have to post armed guards in front of every display counter, women would live in constant fear of being raped by marauding bands of men, and children would be largely left to fend for themselves or to be exploited for the gratification of adults. Now fortunately, well-socialized children generally become well-socialized adults, and unfortunately, undersocialized children do not.
There are few statements which one can say with complete certitude, but here is one: When families fail in the task to socialize children, a civil society is simply not possible. And this is why parenting is such an awesome responsibility.
Now we also know that socialization of children does not get done as well when fathers are absent from the home, and that this is especially true for boys. Simply stated, when fathers are absent, children develop conduct problems. They act out both aggressively and sexually, and sometimes quite violently, towards others. There appear to be several reasons for this. Firstand I know this will come as a great shock to all of youmothers and fathers tend to parent differently. And for children to develop well, what they need to be exposed to is the complementary in the behaviors of both mothers and fathers. To give one example, the so-called rough-and-tumble play of fathers, which fathers tend to specialize in where they get down on the floor and wrestle with their children, seems to be especially critical for the development of self-regulation. Children who don't have this kind of interaction with an adult figure in the household have much greater difficulty in developing self-regulation, and have much more difficulty in developing the capacity to recognize subtle emotional cues of others. These are hallmarks of a well-socialized child. Absent the kind of interaction with the father, these things don't develop as readily.
Also, sons learn to keep their aggressive and violent impulses under check by regular and consistent observation of a male adult in the home who regularly and consistently controls himself despite the presence of strong emotions. And girls learn to bring their sexuality under control through their first, strong, love relationship with a male, usually their father.
Now this doesn't mean that children who don't have a father in the household, who don't have a relationship with a father, cannot be successfully socialized. Of course they can. But it is harder and less likely to happen.
And there's something else. Not only do fathers help to socialize children, but children socialize fathersthey socialize men. And let me give you a word picture here just to illustrate this point. Imagine that you are driving in your car. You're in some city somewhere, you've taken three or four wrong turns, and you find yourself hopelessly lost. You're now in the worst neighborhood you've ever seen in your life: every window is broken, every street lamp is out, it's about 10:00 at night, your car breaks down and your cell phone's battery is no longer working. You get out of your car to go find help, and as you get out, you notice a male about 24, 25 years old approaching you. Would it make a difference to you if, when that male got closer, you noticed that he was walking towards you holding the hand of his four-year-old child? When men are connected to children, they are less dangerous than when they are not connected to children. Fatherhood both helps socialize children and fatherhood also helps to socialize males.
The problem, of course, is that, for the last three decades, we have been increasingly experimenting with the notion that somehow we can in fact socialize children and have a civil society without large numbers of fathers in the household. In 1960, less than 8 million children were being reared in father-absent households. Today, 24 million children live absent their fathers. That means that tonight, nearly 40 percent, nearly 4 out of 10 of all children in America, will go to sleep in a home in which their father does not reside. By some estimates, that figure is likely to rise to 60 percent for children born in the 1990s. For the first time in our history, the average child can expect to live some significant portion of their childhood in a household without their father present.
As a consequence of this growing tragedy of father absence, we are seeing a society that is increasingly characterized by violence, sexual acting out, and increasing incivility. The National Fatherhood Initiative is attempting to try to change this, to combat this critical problem of father absence in three ways.
First, by working to change our cultural understanding about the uniqueness and irreplaceable contributions of fathers. Second, by providing resource materials and technical assistance to local civic and religious organizations who are seeking to implement fatherhood outreach, skill-building, and support programs, and by equipping individual men with the knowledge and skills necessary to be committed and involved fathers.
Now, some say our undertaking is a poor bet. Better, these critics say, for us to accept the modern reality of the father-absent household and to seek substitutes, to seek male role models for fatherless children. Now certainly fatherless children deserve our attention. And who can be against the wisdom of providing such children with adult mentors? But while affirming the importance of reaching out with compassion to fatherless children, this work, while necessary, is insufficient. The truth is that there is simply no precedent in human history whereupon one can successfully recruit millions and millions of men to father somebody else's children. Unless we can find a way to reverse the socially catastrophic trend towards fatherlessness, recapturing civil society is a much poorer bet. For no civil society in the history of the world has succeeded without the presence of loving, committed, and responsible fathers, and it is the height of folly to think that we will be able to do so. Thank you.
GALSTON: Thank you very much, Wade. The second organization represented at this first panel is St. Bernard's Catholic School, and it is represented by a delegation led by its principal, Dennis Donovan. The floor is yours.
DENNIS DONOVAN: Good morning. We're delighted to be here. St. Bernard's is the name of the school, in St. Paul, Minnesota. And we're here today to tell you a good story.
I believe if children are the hope for the future, we have to teach them how to be leaders today. In education, I think we're giving young people tools to put on their tool belt so that they can be successful as adults. Along with reading and writing and mathematics and science, we need to put on that tool belt, citizenship. In a partnership with the University of Minnesota, we have a project called Public Achievement which engages children in my particular school, grades 3 through 8, every Thursday, as active citizens. I believe when people become active citizens, lives are transformed. People solve their own problems; there's enthusiasm, there's energy, there's action, and there's hope.
Imagine this. Every Thursday, a University of Minnesota professor, Dr. James Farr, comes across the Mississippi River with fifteen of his students, and they work with my students as citizens in an experiment that creates energy and action and hope. I believe Public Achievement is about giving students citizenship skills that transform them, and that leads to transforming their communities. And I believe schools can be places of transformation.
So what we want to do today is tell you some stories about what we're doing and why. With me is one of my 8th-grade students, Becky Wichlacz, and Tamishia Anderson, who is a 6th-grade student. Tamishia.
TAMISHIA ANDERSON: Hi, my name is Tamishia Anderson and I've been in the Public Achievement Student Program for three years now. And I've been four groups. Some of the groups that I've been inwell, all of them we've mostly accomplished a lot. I was in the Uniform Policy Group, and one of the policies was, we could only wear low-top tennis shoes. And, you know, new high-tops are coming out and stuff. Well, this particular group had been working on it for two years, and finally my group did something about it. And we got high-top tennis shoes plus low-top tennis shoes.
I was also in the Homeless Group, where we had a clothing and food drive, and we also visited Trinity Mission. Also, I was in Students Helping Students, which I did drop out of, which I made a mistakeyou know, learn from your mistakes. Then I joined Community Service, and we made about $50 in the last two months going around in the winter shoveling people's snow, and this summer we're going to be raking leaves. And just two weeks ago, we got $35, and all this money goes to help build a playground for the Playground Group.
And Public Achievement has made me become a better person, a better daughter, a better friend, and a better person inside and out. And one of the things that gets me by in Public Achievement is the children's story, The Little Train That Could. He kept saying, "I think I can, I think I can," to get up the hill. And in Public Achievement, it's like you've got to start saying, "I know I can, I know I can," and you can achieve the goal that you need to achieve. Thank you.
BECKY WICHLACZ: Good morning. My name is Becky Wichlacz and I'm in 8th grade in St. Bernard's Grade School. I've been involved in Public Achievement for four years. My first year, in the 5th grade, my group organized a fund-raiser; we raised $200 having a dinner for our parents. We did this because we didn't want to go door-to-door selling chocolate candy.
This year is slightly different. My group has organized a trip here to Washington, D.C. We wanted to speak to our nation's leaders and elected officials. This trip was planned for the 8th-grade class of maybe about 30 kids, to talk to our leaders. We've called individuals and organizations and banks asking for donations for our cause, and we are currently halfway to our goal. We still need more funding, though.
We want to come to Washington because we feel that every child should have access to Public Achievement. It should be in every child's school. There's a lot of hopelessness and a sort of despair in society today, and our problems just seem to be growing. Young people are our future, and we are going to inherit this country and this world from all of you here. And if we don't teach children how to handle these problems, nothing will ever get better.
Public Achievement works because of interest and the dedication and devotion of the kids who are in it. They want to see a change come to their community and their school. They want to make a difference. And that's why I believe Public Achievement has been so successful. Thank you.
DONOVAN: (I think W. C. Fields said he never wanted to follow children, or dogs or animals.) Just a little bit about why we're doing it at St. Bernard's. We're a Catholic parish school, and I think oftentimes we in the Catholic schools forget the church's teaching on social justice. I don't think it's enough just to do charity. I think we need to teach our children how to get at the cause of thisof the problems that are facing our cities and our nation. So Public Achievement is not only, for me, an opportunity to educate children around citizenship skills that are important in the future of solving problems, but also as a response to the mission of the Catholic Church. The teachings on social justice are very clear to us. And so, not only do we teach them how to pray and how to learn about their faith, but also, what do you do with that? How do you get out in the public arena to make a difference on the values that are important to us as Catholics and Christians?
So once again, I want to thank you for inviting us to be here. Public Achievement, to me, has brought transformation, and it's a response to our mission as a Catholic school as well as an educational institution. Thank you.
GALSTON: Thank you very much. This is, of course, a serious venture; but comical things happen even to serious ventures. Our third witness has gone to the wrong address and is on her way here, and we will clear a space at the end of this session. But now we will proceed directly to questions, beginning with the co-chairs and then opening the floor to the Commissioners.
WILLIAM BENNETT: Well, character counts, and directions count, too. Thank you all very much. Dr. Horn, could you just give me some numbers? Twenty-four million children go to sleep without a father in their home. That doesn't mean on a business trip, that mean permanently not there. Is that what it means, permanently?
HORN: Twenty-four million children do not reside with their biological fathers.
BENNETT: Okay. How many of those children are there because of illegitimacy, births out of wedlock? How many because of divorce? Could you give a breakdown?
HORN: Cumulatively, it is still more common because of divorce. However, on an annual basis now, more children are entering fatherless households because of illegitimacy and not because of divorce. On an annual basis now, 1.2 million children are being born out of wedlock. About 950,000 are experiencing the divorce of their parents.
BENNETT: Now we saw the numbers for illegitimacy for the first time go down in '94, is that correct?
BENNETT: '95. But that number is still about 1.2 millionthat feeder system, if you will.
HORN: That's exactly right.
BENNETT: Divorce numbers are stabilizing, we think?
HORN: Divorce numbers are going down, but to some extent that's a statistical anomaly. Because what's happening at the same time that divorce . . . Divorce rates have been going down since about the mid-1980s. But what's been happening at the same time is, cohabitation rates are going up dramatically. And so a lot of what would have been fragile marriages are now fragile cohabiting relationships. And unfortunately, a lot of kids are being born to those cohabiting relationships, and they have a much higher incidence of breakup than do marriages. And because of that, it's unclear the extent to which divorce rates are going down because marriages are stronger, or simply because the most fragile of those marital relationships are just cohabiting as opposed to marriage.
BENNETT: And my last question. Would you comment about the literature on the so-called "good enough" marriage? Where is the line? You know what I'm after here. That is, people say it's better to have a child raised without a father than to have an abusive father. How much abuse? Where's the line? What does the research tell us?
HORN: Well, clearly it is no great advancein fact, it's detrimental to child well-beingto have an abusive father in the household. However, the National Commission on Children estimates that of all the divorces that occurred, only about 20 to 25 percent occur because of the kind of high conflict that is characterized by domestic violence and abuse and so forth. The rest are occurring for other reasons: the thrill is gone; I've met somebody younger, sexier; I need to go out and find myself; I need to be self-fulfilled. And the literature is clear that when you compare children of divorce to those who are being reared with high violence in the marital relationship, the kids are better off because of the divorce.
However, there are new studies that show that, if absent that kind of high aggression and conflict, children do better if their parents do not divorce. This is new research, just published in the last month or so by Rex Forehand at the University of Georgia, who looks at longitudinal studies. And absent that kind of aggression and violence, the children do bettersubstantially betterif the parents stay together.
SAM NUNN: Dr. Horn, let me ask one question here, and that is evaluation. Do you have an evaluation of your program, in the sense of looking at results and measuring results, and a way of holding your own organization accountable for results?
HORN: Well, we are constantly monitoring divorce rates, out-of-wedlock childbearing rates, fathering rates. We believe that if we are successful in reestablishing fatherhood as an ideal within our culture, we will see less divorce, we will see less out-of-wedlock fathering. But in the end, the most appropriate evaluation criteria for our work is not whether marriages stay together and whether less children are born out of wedlock. The most appropriate evaluation criteria for us is whether the well-being of children materially improves because more children are growing up with involved, committed, and engaged fathers in their lives. Because of that, we also monitor broad-based indices of child well-beingwhich, as you know, have been declining on a variety of different measures over the last twenty, twenty-five years. Which corresponds, also, with the dramatic increase in fatherlessness.
NUNN: But do you have a method to see whether what you're doing is improving the lot of children? Do you have any kind of evaluation system where you can say at the end of a year, two years, or three years, "Here's where we would have been without our efforts; here are the things that we've been able to achieve."
HORN: But were it so simple that it would take just a year or two of effort to reestablish responsible fatherhood in America! What we do do, however, is, we publish an annual report called Father Facts, and in that, we look at trend data available from around the country and through various government sources, that look at these various indices that I just talked aboutdivorce rates, out-of-wedlock father rates, and so forth. The degree to which we can precisely say it was due to our efforts is very difficult. However, we are doing a statewide project within Virginia, and we have an independent evaluation that was done by the University of Virginia that looked at the impact of our Virginia Fatherhood campaign, primarily in terms of its public awareness aspect. And based upon that independent evaluation, it showed a significant increase in both the awareness of the campaign itself, but also in terms of a recognition of the problem of father absence as a significant cause of declining child well-being.
NUNN: Good, thank you very much. Thank all of you for being here. Appreciate your testimony.
BENNETT: Yes indeed.
GALSTON: The floor is now open to questions from the Commissioners.
LLOYD HACKLEY: I think I have a question, and it's sort of convoluted, so I'm not really sure. I think it has two parts to it. I think what I heard was that the increasing absence of fathers is inevitable; and so part of the question is whether the efforts are designed to reverse that situation, or whether the efforts are designed to socialize children nevertheless. Because if it's inevitable, then we'd better do something about that massive number.
And the second piece of that is, I was in a community with about 35,000 black children, and about 1,700 of them got into trouble. But the 1,700, for all reporting and media communication, became the total population. So that we would say that 65 percent of the kids did this, and 75 percent of them do that, but we were talking about the 1,700 and not the 35,000. So I'm wondering, What percentage of kids in the "absent father situation" develop into model, positive people, and what's in their lives that we may be able to communicate someplace else for replication?
HORN: The data is very clear that there is a non-trivial increase in risk for children who are reared without fathers. They are 3 to 4 times more likely to fail at school. They are 5 times more likely to live in poverty. They are 3 to 4 times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems requiring psychiatric treatment. As adolescents, they are 4 times more likely to commit suicide. If they're boys, they are significantly more likely to get in trouble with the law as teenagers. Girls are significantly more likely to bear a child out of wedlock as teenagers.
However, having said that, it is also true that large numbers of children who grow up without fathers do okay. They avoid those problems. But let me answer . . . the critical point is a very important question with an analogy. Imagine that you go to an airport and you get to the ticket counter and the person says to you, "You're in luck. There are two planes, leaving at exactly the same time, going to where you want to go, and they will arrive at exactly the same point in time." And you say, "Well, what's the difference? Is there anything I should know?" And the person says, "Yes; one plane will get you there 99 times out of 100 without crashing, and the second plane will get you there 90 out of 100 times without crashing. Which plane would you like a ticket for?" Now, the answer is pretty obvious: You'd take the first plane. But the fact of the matter is that the second plane would still get you there 90 out of 100 times without crashing; that is, more often than not, you would survive. What the problem is, there is a non-trivial increased risk of disaster for that second plane which we would avoid if we can help it.
The point here is not that every child who grows up without a father is doomed. That is just simply not so. The point is that there is this non-trivial increase in risk of bad outcomes for these kids. And if we can do something about reducing that non-trivial increase in risk, we ought to do it. And the thing that is driving that non-trivial increase in risk is the wholesale absence of fathers in a lot of these families. So, yes, it is possible to rear children okay without a father. It is possible. It is hard work, and one of the things that we do know from the literature that helps that is if there is a community around them that supports them, that provides other role models and so forth. But we are talking about some communities now where you can go look up and down the street, and not see a single home with a father inside it. And that is a very different experience than for a child who grew up 30-35 years ago without a father, but 90 percent of the households in their community did have a father in them.
PETER GOLDMARK: Two questions. I'd just like to go one more lap on Bill Bennett's numbers question, because we shifted somewhere from totals to annual numbers. If, out of the 24 million, we subtract death, divorce, and separation, what's the rough number we're left with?
HORN: If we subtract out death, divorce, separations, so we're dealing with out-of-wedlock?
GOLDMARK: We're dealing with illegitimacy, real abandonment.
HENRY FERNANDEZ: And also those that are living with a non-biological parentbecause that's another group, I think, that you guys indicate exists as well. So there's two parents in the home, but they're not . . . that would also have to be subtracted out. BENNETT: No, that's different, because you still have to get the number to explain why the father isn't there.
HORN: It's about 40 percent of the total.
GOLDMARK: So, about 10 million out of 24. The second question is for Becky and Tamishia. I have an impression that may be wrong. My impression, partly from how my own kids grew up, is that at roughly the ages you're at, girls are more interested in citizenship and public achievement than boys. What's going on at St. Bernard's? Are there as many boys involved? Are they as gung-ho about this stuff as you? Is there, in fact, a difference that you all feelthere are less boy leaders or less involved? Tough subject.
WICHLACZ: Okay, I have a response to that. I think at St. Bernard's, there's an equal number of boys and girls involved in Public Achievement. However, I think I do see girls taking more of a leadership role over boys.
GOLDMARK: Why do you think that is?
WICHLACZ: I don't really know. It's kind of hard to think. I guess the reason I can think of is . . . I heard someone say once that we live in a patriarchal society, where most things are male-dominated. And maybe it's sort of a turn, if women and girls can sort of take a role and be active in things that formerly were just for men.
GOLDMARK: Tamishia, you want a swing at this one?
ANDERSON: Well, I think girls in our school that are in Public Achievement are more active than the boys. I would have to say about 10 to even 5 boys that are really serious about Public Achievement and want to change something. But the others, I mean, they're goofy or they don't want to change anything, or they're just not serious. And most of the girls there are very seriousalmost all, except for like 2 to 3. I don't know why we are like that and boys aren't. But I guess . . . We're just more serious than they are. We're serious about Public Achievement and changing things and being active and stuff. Because they always say it's a man's world, which it's notit's equal, and we're trying to prove that now.
WICHLACZ: Can I make a comment on Mr. Horn's topic? My parents divorced when I was 5 years old, so I grew up without a father. And I know he said that not all children are doomed. But it was looking pretty grim, I guess, for me. My mom did not have a college education, so she had to work and provide for me and my sister by herself. I think I came out okay. I mean, I'm here, I'm in school, and I am one of the top students in my class. I take a high school geometry course; I'm the only one in my class who does that. I received a scholarship to St. Bernard's High School, which I will be attending in the fall. And I think I have high self-esteem. I can speak my mind. But one thing I would like to agree with Mr. Horn on is, if there isn't a father there, there probably should be some sort of male role model. I think mine was my grandfather, my mother's father. He picked me up from school and took me to dance classes, and he just talked to me and answered my questions, and took me to church. And he was a very positive man. So I would like to agree with him on that.
ANDERSON: I also have a comment for Mr. Horn. I also grew up without a father. When I was born, he left, and so did my mother. But it was first my father. And so now I am living with my great-grandmother, and she's been a great role model on me. She taught me to speak my mind and what I believe in and go for it. And another role model for my father is her son, my grandpa. And he has been absolutely great. I call him my father because he's been there forever. He does things with me, talks to me. I mean, he treats me like I'm his own, and that's what makes me really feel at home, because, like, I'm theirs. But I can agree with him on that, that fathers sometimes mostly aren't there. But we grew up okay, though, most of the time.
GALSTON: Bob Woodson's next up, but, Wade, if you have any sort of response that you'd like to make.
HORN: I only wish my daughters were as successful and well-mannered, and presented as well, as these two on my left. And I applaud them for being such wonderful kids. Again, I just want to reiterate, the point is not that it is impossible for children to grow up without fathers. The point is that it does present some increased risk for many children. Because there are some people who smoke all their lives and don't get cancer is not evidence that smoking does not cause cancer. And I'm not suggesting that fatherlessness is the equivalent of smoking cigarettes. But I am suggesting that we need to be serious about this, and understand the connection that is clearly evident in the empirical literature between this non-trivial increase in risk for poor outcomes and the fact that so many children increasingly are growing up without fathers in their lives.
ROBERT WOODSON: I certainly support your statements about the importance of fathering. But you left me hanging there at the end of your presentation, when you talked about coalitions of volunteers, that we are about to embark on a change from the poverty-industrial complex to the voluntary-industrial complex, where General Powell is calling for millions of volunteers to come in and save these thousands and millions of children in the inner city. And your comment seemed to discourage that idea. That's one question; would you respond to that? Then I have another one.
HORN: Who can be against volunteerism? Who can be against mentoring? I mean, my goodness, the fact of the matter is, we have all these children who are growing up without fathers. Both of these fine young ladies earlier talked about role models in their lives that provided effective substitutes for their absent fathers. But what worries me about this move towards mentoring for this huge problem is that the last thing these kids need who are growing up without fathers is someone to parachute into their lives for 6 or 8 months, establish a relationship, and then leave. The last thing these kids need is another abandonment experience. These two girls did not say, "I had somebody come in as a volunteer, establish a relationship with me for 6 months, and that helped me grow to be this wonderful person that I am today." What they said is, I had a grandfather, I had someone elsesomeone who is a permanent fixture in their lives. So if we're going to see mentoring as an adequate substitute for fathering, we have to at least be serious about it and understand the last thing these kids need is another abandonment experience from a male.
WOODSON: The second part of my question . . . and I agree, we've got to really disaggregate this population of children. Young people, young men between 15 and 22, make up about 9 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for half of all property crimes and a fourth of all violent crimes. You're talking about a small percentage. But these are the kids living in those at-risk communities.
But you said something else that I think . . . You talked about, that there's an absence of fathers. But a lot of the fathers are in prison. But because a person is an inmate doesn't mean they can no longer be restored as fathers. And there are groups bridging those and helping even men in those situations to reestablish relationships. So I would hope that this Commission would probe deeper into ways that groups are helping to strengthen those indigenous fathers.
I agree with you: too little attention is given to what are the resources within those communities. And I would say the distinction is between those who parachute in, have time after the 18th hole to go and mentor a child, and those people that have made a lifetime commitment, whether they are related to the children or notpeople that are indigenous, that have made this a lifetime commitment. And there is a need to strengthen those systems, rather than devote the millions and millions of dollars that are going to be poured into organizing volunteers, classifying them, training them, directing them, rather than investing those resources in the kind of people evidenced by these two young ladies.
HORN: What we know is that the two strongest motivators for turning someone around who is in prison is faith and family. Almost every prison program, if not every one, has a program to try to connect those who are in prison to faith. It is only very recently that we are starting to experiment with also connecting those men who are in prison who are fathers with their children and with their families. It's an idea that I think is very important for us to explore.
WOODSON: We're seeing measurable results.
GALSTON: The order of proceedings for the next few minutes will be as follows: I've seen three more hands, Henry Fernandez, Elaine Chao, Ismar Schorsch, Michael Novak. After those four questions and responses, we will then hear from Nancy Van Gulick of The Character Counts! Coalition, and then proceed with the remainder of the question-and-answer period.
HENRY FERNANDEZ: I actually have a question for both groups. So, to start with you, Wade. You talked quite a bit, and I think quite correctly, about the role of fathers. But most of your presentation today was actually about the role of marriage. And what I'd be interested in is knowing if you think that there are ways . . . I assume that we have this large number of people who are separated, divorced, never married, but they're still fathers. What work have you done, or what have you seen that worked, in terms of bringing those fathers back into children's lives or strengthening their presence that's already in those children's lives? Because I think for those folks, you can generally assume those families are not going to become intact again through marriage, even though we might do some things for new couples. Can you talk to that?
HORN: First, the way you don't do it is by saying to those guys, "The most important thing you can contribute to your children is your money." I think that what we say to men who are non-resident fathers is, "The only thing of value that you have to contribute to your family now is money." And that's particularly true through the child-support enforcement system. And that's a sure way to drive a lot of guys away, particularly unwed fathers awayif we just simply focus just too exclusively upon the economic portion of the contributions that non-resident fathers make. It seems to me that the likelihood of keeping these men connected to their children is much greater if we emphasize, in addition to the economic provision role, the non-economic contributions that fathers make to their children's well-being. If we say to those guys, "You know, money's important, yes, but it is even more important for you to stay connected to your children as a nurturer, as a moral coach, as a role model, as a disciplinarian"that these non-economic contributions are even more important than the economic. Yet what we do, we say to these non-resident fathers is, "You have to pay some kind of ransom before you can even see your kids." And I think that is a very poor way of going about that.
But I will say this very briefly: We are also now at a point where we are saying, Is marriage the route to responsible fatherhood, or is something else? Is cohabitation that something else? Is working with non-resident fathers that something else? And the data is not very encouraging that in fact you can get, in the long term, involved, committed, engaged fathers outside of marriage. The best longitudinal research in this was done by Bob Lerman and Theodora Ooms. And they show that for the first two years or so of a child's life, an unwed father has about a 60 percent chance of coming around once a week or more and seeing their kid. That sounds pretty good. But by the time the child's seven and a half, the percentage of men who are doing that dropped to less than 25 percent. What that suggests is that a lot of men are establishing a relationship early on with their kids and then leaving their kids as they enter elementary school. As a child psychologist, I wonder whether that's any great advance, to have established a relationship with a man you call father and then have the man disappear. So while, yes, we ought to do a better job of connecting non-resident fathers with their kids, at the same time, let's not be naive about the importance of marriage as the most effective pathway to having a father engaged in a child's life throughout their childhood.
FERNANDEZ: The second part of that. before I get to the question for the folks from St. Bernard's: these two young women point out that, in effect, in many ways they see themselves as having what they consider a father. And I think, Tamishia, you actually said you consider your grandfather your father. To what extent are those kind of relative connections worth supporting, and have you all done any work in that area? Because I think that's a very, very common phenomenon.
HORN: Yes, and it is one of the predictors of good outcomes for kids who grow up without fathers. The so-called "invulnerable children" literaturethere's those kids who grew up in dire circumstances yet do fine, who actually excel, the so-called invulnerable kidsone of the predictors of that is the establishment, if there's not a father in the home, of a very intimate close relationship with an adult male figure somewhere in their orbit that stays connected to them throughout their childhood. So ought that to be something we support? Absolutely, and they are testimony to the importance of that.
FERNANDEZ: Mr. Donovan, your kids were wonderful and I think that that may speak to some fatherly characteristics of yourself. I was interested in something that you said, though, in closing. You spoke of the social justice component of what you're doing, and particularly how that was connected to your faith and expanding faith beyond just teaching kids how to pray. Could you talk a little bit more about how you actually do that, either in the classroom or in the culture of the schooladdress this issue of social justice, and that character goes beyond doing good deeds to understanding why they're important and what the value of your fellow person is?
DONOVAN: My recent ten-year transformation took place when I became involved in church-based community organizing through the Camellia Foundation in Chicago. And when I began working with people from nineteen churches in St. Paul on issues facing them,everything from jobs to looking at how we can improve education, both private and publicI began thinking, Wouldn't this be great to instill in our young people? Youth organizing. So we're on our way. That's part of our challenge: to deepen the Public Achievement experience, which involves transforming teachers. We talk about fathers in our schools. We still have to deal with the children; and when a teacher says to me, because of his or her experience with Public Achievement, "I now look at children differently," that says there's a transformation that takes place.
It's about power. How do we teach kids how to access power? Because without power, we all know we don't change anything. So an example of a directive is the Homeless Group. Third and fourth graders want to do something. They're taught in our church that we should do things for people, right? Okay, so they want to have a food and clothing drive. They go out and visit a mission on the east side of St. Paul. They meet a homeless person. Now they come back and start talking about Social Security, welfare reform. We have to deepen the experience of the coach, and it's all about relationships. So I have a conversation with the Office of Social Justice in our archdiocese; I know they're lobbying at the state capital about welfare reform. Ah hanext year, how do we get the children with the adults in this experience. That's more than just saying, "Let's go and feed the hungry." It's, "Let's go and fix the problem." So that's an example that I can share with you.
BENNETT: Could I just follow that up? You have to be involved in Public Achievement?
BENNETT: If you're one of these guys, dopey or not, in your schoolI find girls and boys both dopey; boys are dopey in a boy kind of way, girls in a girl kind of waybut supposing you're a guy who just wants to study hard all your subjects, and do something dopey like play football. Is that okay?
DONOVAN: Absolutely, it's a choice.
BENNETT: Will I get criticized for not having a conscience?
BENNETT: It sounded like I would. No?
DONOVAN: I don't think so. What we need to instill in our young people is, there's a consequence for every one of our choices. In Public Achievement, we have an issue assembly, and children choose to be a part of this or not. Those that choose not to be a part of it, they do study.
BENNETT: I presume everybody studies at your school.
DONOVAN: Well, during Public Achievement time, though. They select to do a thing. Some kids then decide to do traditional community service around the school, which is fine. So yes, they do have a choice.
ELAINE CHAO: I thought Dr. Horn's presentation was really interesting. It's a perplexing topic, and it's one that all of us are obviously very concerned with. But I also want to commend Dr. Horn and Don Eberley for working on this, because it is such a sensitive issue. There are so many divorced households and there are so many absent fathers that there is almost . . . it's become almost a way of life within America, and to say anything against it invites almost a kind of defensiveness. I think it's wonderful that although Becky and Tamishia have not had the benefit of fathers, they were able to find father figures who have obviously done a wonderful job in rearing them. But families are so complicated. We can't do without them, and when we don't have them, we spend our whole lives seeking a substitute.
And I've got a tough question for Becky and Tamishia, so I'm going to warn you ahead of time, but I'd be very interested in your point of view. How do you know what you're missing, if you've never had it, number one? And do you feel, kind of deep down, a yearning to know who your father is and what they're doing, and wish somehow that they can be connected with what you're doing in your lives? And I'm sorry, I don't mean to be real emotional about it, but I'm just real curious.
WICHLACZ: That's okay. It's a very emotional topic, especially for me. I know who my father is. I'm very close to his parents. That is one of the great things. My grandparents and my mother, they didn't feel that I should be cheated out of my grandparents because my father was gone. So I see his parents very often. They're very much a part of my life; and I thank my parents for thatmy mom. I think I feel a little cheated, though, that I didn't have my father. You know, when other kids talk about their parents, or they go on a family vacation or something, you're wondering, like, what am I missing? But I think I'm almost better off without my father. I haven't seen him in a couple years. He sends a check every month, but that's pretty much about it. I think I'm doing okay.
CHAO: No, you're doing very well. You're very articulate and confident; I'm real proud of you.
WICHLACZ: For the record, my grandfather passed away four years ago, and he was very sick the year before he died. He had cancer. And I took care of him for a while, because my grandmother was in the hospital also. So I stayed with my grandfather, and I cooked him meals, and I helped him up and I helped him around. And it was kind of hard to see him go, but when I'm here and I go to things and when I do good in school, I feel like he's watching me. I feel like he's very proud of me.
CHAO: I know he's very proud of you.
WICHLACZ: Thank you. So that's what kind of gets me through. I don't really worry about the other father stuff.
CHAO: You know, I was at Smith College for my stepdaughter's graduation. And Ruth Simmons, an African-American woman who's president of Smith College, said something wonderful. She said, "You know, my mother died when I was very young, and I thought that I'd lost her forever. But then as I grow older and I find things and traits that she's taught me, I find that she's really living within me." So I hope that offers some comfort.
WICHLACZ: Thank you.
ANDERSON: To tell you the truth, I don't know what I'm missing. I don't even know my father's name, and I've never seen him before. Which I'm really urging to, you knowto just say hi or something, but not to . . . because I'm mad, kind of, you know, I'm mad inside at my parents. And I used to see my mother, but my great-grandmom, she said I can't see her until she changes. And so, I mean, I'm not adopted to my great-grandmother, but I'm hers, she says. I don't know. Like Becky said, that when you hear your friends or other people talk about "Oh, me and my dad" or "Me and my mom went here," well, I think about . . . I mean, I have parents, I say I have parents, which I do, but not my real biology parents. And it's kind of . . . you get kind of mad. but then it's like, well, we do have people to watch over us, like real parents do. Like you said, I'm urging to know who my father is and his history, and I don't know if he's dead or if he's alive. But that's one of my goals. I'm going to find him.
CHAO: Good for you. Thank you.
ISMAR SCHORSCH: Mr. Donovan, you began by telling us you have a good story to tell, and you certainly do. It is uplifting to listen to you and your children. My question is actually addressed to Dr. Horn. What public policy positions do you advocate to address some of the underlying causes of the absence of fathers?
HORN: Well, first I want to emphasize that we believe that the problem of fatherlessness is much more of a cultural issue than it is a public policy issue. And so our project is mostly about changing the culture and its understanding about the uniqueness and the irreplaceability of fathers.
Having said that, we do, however, also talk about some of the public policy implications. Certainly we have had a public policy for the last 25 or 30 years, particularly in welfare and the tax code, which has systematically discriminated against fathers. Up until recentlyand the promise of welfare reform is that this will changeessentially what welfare said is, The easy route to getting welfare is not to have a man around the house. And social workers, caseworkers used to do midnight raids in households to make sure there wasn't a man in the housethe so-called "man in the house" rule. Even the APCUP program, the unemployed parent program which was supposed to open the gates to the two-parent households, continued to make it more difficult for those households to access welfare than those without a father. So clearly there's promise in welfare reform to be able to change that.
The tax code is also quite discriminatory when it comes to marriage. There's the so-called marriage penalty. I don't believe that large, large numbers of people make a decision not to get married because of the tax code, but at the margins, they might. And it also communicates a message to the culture about the importance of marriage and, by that route, also the importance of fathers. So certainly in those two areas, I see some need for change.
And then, finally, in terms of divorce laws. You know, we introduced no-fault divorce back in the 1960s and the 1970s, and it was a resounding successI mean, divorce rates went up when we introduced no-fault divorce. And I'm not suggesting that a reintroduction of fault is going to cure the problem of divorce in America. I'm even quite ambivalent about the reintroduction of fault in divorce laws. But it does seem to me that there ought to be some braking mechanisms that are put into place to allow couples more time to reflect upon their decision to divorce, to make sure that they've tried everything that is possible to make their marriages good enough before they do somethingparticularly when children are involvedthat may have negative consequences on them.
Let me add one thirty-second piece here. When we talk about father absence, it's important to also know we're not just talking about physically absent fathers. We're also talking about those guys who are in the home, married to the mother, they go to work every day, they come home, they plop down on the couch, they open a can of beer, and they watch television. They don't know who their children's friends are; they don't help their kids with their homework; they're not engaged in their children's lives. And you know, it's not just a matter that a guy has to be thereany guy. What it has to be is a father who is involved in the lives of his children. And wouldn't it have been better for these two girls, and for any other child growing up without a fatherwouldn't it have been better if they had had a father from the beginning who loved them, who nurtured them, who cared for them, who was engaged in their lives? Wouldn't that have been better? Despite the fact that they are wonderful kids who are growing up well, wouldn't that have been a better path for them?
DONOVAN: I think one of the opportunities of Public Achievement is to begin to have young people assume responsibility of fatherhood. So in other words, if they're engaged in stuff that's important to them, if they are having success, if they're creating solutions at a young age to their problems, might they not take that role of fatherhood more seriously?
MICHAEL NOVAK: I'd like to ask Becky and Tamishia a couple of questions, if I might. First of all, how many schools in the St. Paul area are in Public Achievement?
WICHLACZ: There are currently no schools besides St. Bernard's in Public Achievement.
NOVAK: So you could spread it quite a long ways just in St. Paul?
NOVAK: The second question I had is, when the students come from the university, the fifteen students, what actually do they do?
WICHLACZ: We call them coaches. They're usually around 20 to maybe 19, somewhere around there. And they sort of . . . They don't run the group. They are coaches of a particular group of students who are working on a particular issue. And the coaches have a training where they learn different ways of helping us along. They don't run us; they don't tell us what to do. Sometimes they may give us suggestions, or they teach us. They sort of let us know about what we're doing, and about power and about what "public" means. And the coaches, they're very supportive of us and they're very helpful, but like I said, they don't do it for us. They kind of guide us along.
NOVAK: Tamishia, do you want to comment on the coaches' role?
TAMISHIA: It's everything Becky said.
DONOVAN: One of the bright spots last week was a successful granting from the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, as we embark on Citizenship in the Heartland. I'm very proud that five schools in Kansas City, Missouri, will begin Public Achievement next year. We have had, over the last five years, both public schools and Catholic schools involved in Public Achievement in the Twin Cities. The lessons learned from St. Bernard's will help us next year in the deepening of the St. Bernard's experience as the flagship, so to speak, and then the expansion of Public Achievement in this project called Citizenship in the Heartland.
NOVAK: I went to a St. Bernard's School in Indiana, Pennsylvania. And a thought struck me: it would be interesting if you could look up all the St. Bernard's schools in the country and got in touch with them. But I did want to say one other thing, in response to Becky and Tamishia's testimony. My father grew up without a father. Two of the most distinguished people in my circle of friends grew up in orphanages. I think God has a way of working out things for everybody, so that those who have parents miss what you've had. You've had an extraordinary experience, both of you, and you have really a lot to be thankful for. So I think other people should worry about what they missed, rather than you worrying about what you missed. But God has a different way of working with everybody. You can count on that, draw a great deal of strength from that. You'd make anybody proud.
GALSTON: It's now my pleasure to recognize Nancy Van Gulick for a ten-minute presentation on behalf of the Character Counts! Coalition. And may I say in your presence what I said in your absence, that I apologize on behalf of the National Commission for any role we may have played in sending you out to College Park, Maryland, on what must have been a heart-wrenching morning.
NANCY VAN GULICK: Thank you. Things are alive and well in College Park, I want you to know. That was my alma mater, and I always love going back there, except when I'm supposed to be here. Anyway, I apologize for being late and I appreciate the time to speak before this distinguished group of guests we have here this morning.
I'm here on behalf of the Character Counts! Coalition, and I will spend just a moment telling all of you who don't know what it is, what it is, even though some of you, I know, were on the originating group that put it together and probably do know a lot of what it is. Character Counts! is a national coalition of organizations made up for the purpose of combating dishonesty and violence in our society by strengthening the moral fiber, first of our children. We do this through things like character development education. This is not just in schools, but it is in community groups, in after-school activities, through the churches, through the home, using parents, volunteers, other students. Whomever we can get to teach, we will teach character education to.
We introduce this to communities through Community Night forums, through Education Nights, inviting civic leaders and citizens to understand what we're talking about when we say character education. We have a special week that's been proclaimed by our Congress as Character Counts! Week, during which we celebrate the initiation of character education and good character amongst our citizens. We deal with the youth who are living in high-risk situations, those who are in court-appointed schools, adjudicated situations; we have what we call youth high-risk workshops where we teach those who are working with those youth how to teach character in their situations.
We start with the youngest children we can, probably age 2 with their cognitive reasoning at that point, where we have cute films that include all the major Barneys and Big Birds and people like that who have come together to form this film. And we show that to the children, about what is character, what do we mean by character, and go on through high school, where we teach ethical decision-making as one of the bases for reasoning and character.
A brief history of the Character Counts! Coalition. It was started in 1992 by the Josephson Ethics Institute out of California. In 1992, we pulled together a group similar to this Commission of people who were interested in the topic politicians on both sides (it's a nonpartisan organization), religious leaders, civic leaders, people who work with youth in all situations. They came together in Aspen, Colorado, to discuss the idea of teaching character and values to children. The moral decline of our country was something that was of prime importance to all of them. Out of the Aspen meeting, they came up with what they called the Aspen Declaration, which was, that it is important to teach values to our children; that over the last several decades, the teaching of values has gone away; that after the '60s, what we got into was things like values clarification, where everybody's values were okay, it didn't matter: as long as you understood what somebody else's values were, it was okay with you. "As long as they weren't hurting anyone" seemed to be the caveat there.
But the people at Aspen decided that there are, in fact, some universal values that can be taught; that are nonpartisan, that have no political agenda, have no religious agenda; that can be identified with people no matter what their race or their culture or their nationality, where they live; that there are some universal core values that can be taught. They came up with six in Aspen, and those are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. There could have been more, perhaps; there could have been fewer. But in the interest of understanding and brevity, they all agreed on six. Some wanted to call them something else. Some wanted to say honesty instead of trust-worthiness; some people, compassion instead of caring. But in fact, they agreed on six. So these are the six values that the National Character Counts! Coalition is going about teaching in its various ways.
They trained people on how to do this; the Ethics Institute did. There are a core of us now who are national trainers, who do go around and meet with communities and schools and school districts, school superintendents, civic leaders and politicians and what-not in communities, and train others on what these values are and how to teach people what they are.
I think what we believe is important. I think that character really does count, and we believe it does count. We believe that over 50 percent of the children in this nation don't go to a church, for instance, where they learn some of these values. They don't have two caring parents who teach them these values. Their grandparents don't live in the same neighborhood; they don't learn them from them. They don't learn them at after- school activities. Most of their values are coming from TV and from their neighborhoods or the movies they watch, and some rather unscrupulous characters with whom they come in contact on a day-to-day basis.
Teachers are afraid to teach it. There's more violence in the school now, and the teachers are afraid to talk to them about respect in the way that it's a value, it's an ethical value. They don't talk about ethics anymore to these children. So we do believe that character does count in personal relationships, in school, and at the workplace. It's who you are that really does matter. We believe that it's not hereditary; a person is not born of good character, but it's something that they must develop through hard work and some serious choices along the way. So what we need to do is to teach the children how to make those choices. We need to teach them how to think ethically and how to put that in perspective. It's not an easy job when they're not getting it anywhere else, but we believe it needs to be done.
It's done by example. We have a motto that we callwell, it used to be called TAME. We've decided that we didn't want to tame people; we're going to call it a TEAM. But it's the same thing. (I was trained a long time ago, so TAME still sticks in my head.) But we have to teach these values to the children. We have to teach them right from wrong from day one. We have to have them understand and have a conscious level of what is right and wrong. We have to advocate for it. We have to say it's important that you do right from wrong. We have to say it's important that you respect one another, that you're a good citizen. Now a citizen to a child means maybe picking up in their neighborhood. It means helping their parents. It means understanding what voting is. Of course, the parents have to votethat's the other part; that's the modeling part. TAME, Model: we must model these values to our children in everything that we do.
So for this reason we're not just talking to the children. We're talking to the adults. When we go into the school district, we have a night for the PTA as well. If the parents aren't modeling this behavior, where are the children going to pick it up? So we have to teach parents once again how to model the behavior. You don't lie when Grandma calls on the phone and say you don't want to talk to her: "Tell her I'm not here." You don't say that to the children. You know, that's a poor model. Things like that. You don't have the radar detector on the dash of your car so that you don't get caught speeding, and the children see that. You have to model this good behavior as well.
And of course you have to enforce it, which is another thing that has been a problem in the last couple of years. There is no enforcement of the rules against bad behavior in so many of the placesespecially in the schools. The teachers are afraid of it. You have to have the consequences match the actions, so there's a pattern here that we try to teach in the schools and in the communities. We have to make them conscious of right and wrong. We have to make them committed to doing right, meaning it feels good to do right. Teach them that it feels good to do right. When you help the little old lady across the street, that feels good. You know, when you do the right thing, it feels good. When you do the wrong thing, it feels bad. Teach them to be committed. Make them feel committed to doing the right thing.
And then you have to give them the competency to do that. You have to teach them how to make those decisions. Teach them what ethics are. Teach them how to make a decision based on the fact that it's the Golden Rule, that you want to do unto others as you would have them do unto youNOT before they do it to you, or so that they will do it to you. It's as you would have them do unto you. And no matter what religion or what culture you're from, there is a Golden Rule. Maybe it's said a little differently, but there is one. So teach them that, teach them that competency, teach them to decide between right and wrong. We can't expect them to do it if we don't teach them how, and that's when the ethical decision-making comes inbased on the Golden Rule, based on stakeholders, based on who you're going to hurt, based on this decision.
We have to get away from the "I deserve it" creed that so many of them are growing up with now, that they see on TV: You need these shoes, you need these jackets, you need this, you need that. They begin to think that they need it. You hear these little children, little teeniest children watching TV; after a while, they say, "I need that, I need that game." You don't need that game; you might want that game, but teach them the difference between "need" and "want" so that when they grow up, they don't think that they need it, therefore they deserve it. And if they deserve it today, they feel like they will do anything they have to do to get it; and that's kind of the creed. We'd like to change that creed, that ethos, from the "I deserve it" to the "I want to be a good person" creed, and what can I do to be a good person?
So that's what Character Counts! is about. The Coalition is united in doing this across the country. We have over 150 organizations now that are committed to teaching character and teaching these values to the children that they work with and the parents that live with these children. And I appreciate the opportunity to come and talk to you about it. Thank you. GALSTON: We appreciate the more than ordinary efforts you made to be with us this morning. Thank you for your presentation. We have about 15 minutes left for questions, and I will first recognize Richard Land.
RICHARD LAND: I wanted to direct my question first to Dr. Horn and then to the others on the panel. I want to thank you for your presentation about character. I think we can't have too much teaching of character in the United States in the last decade of the 20th century.
There is a lot of controversy about talking about what many of us see as the devastating effects of divorce on our children. And one of the reasons for that is that divorce has become so ubiquitous in our culture. We face this. I talk with my fellow clergymen all the time, and they have a dilemma about this. They face a congregation of Southern Baptists, many of whom are divorced. And if they preach about divorce and why they believe the Bible says we shouldn't get divorcedthat it's bad for children; that marriage is something that takes commitment and takes hard work; that many of us know of people who have reasons that other people have used for divorce, but they've worked through them because they have a commitment to the marriagethere are people in their congregation who are going to be offended, who are going to feel that you're picking on them, when, in fact, you are trying to engage in a little preventative counseling.
We all know of tragic situations where divorce occurred, and most of us would say we would not want to have to walk through those situations. But apart from turning the cultural tide on the issue of divorce, and recreating the kind of social investment that extended families and communities and churches and other opinion-molding segments of the society had in stable marriagesin making the commitment to make it work, staying together, a feeling that it was better for the children in most casesapart from that, is there any real hope for turning around the devastation that has occurred to our children? I just finished reading on the way up here Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's new book, and it depressed me, because it seemed to quantify much of what I had intuitive impressions of. Is there an adequate substitute, societally, for marriages, intact marriages, in raising large numbers of children who have not been devastatingly impacted in very negative ways, both for the society and for themselves?
HORN: There are three options that people are talking about. Two of them are the alternative. One is child-support enforcement: If we only get non-resident fathers to pay money and do it consistently, do it regularly and at an adequate level, there will be no negative consequences for children. The problem with that argument is that even after controlling for income, children who grow up without engaged, committed fathers in their lives don't do as well as kids who have such a father. The second option that people are exploring is the notion of cohabitation. It's particularly popular among the young, precisely because they have a fear of divorcenot a fear or phobia of marriage. That is, they are the ones who have experienced the negative consequences of divorce, and they are so terrified of having that experience replicated in their own lives that they go to cohabitation as a form of trial marriage in order to try to lessen the possibility of divorce. The problem with that is, if you look at statistics on children born to cohabiting couples, only 4 out of 10 of those couples ever go on to marry, and those that do go on to marry have higher divorce rates than those that didn't cohabit before the birth of a child. And cohabitation relationships have a very high incidence of breakup. And so those two options, although being touted by some, do not seem to be the answer.
Now, I actually have a sense of optimism about this, and I'll tell you why. It's because of the young. The young generation has a great desire for longer-term, committed, intimate relationships in their lives; and they want to get married. And they don't say, "I want to get married for a short period of time, and then I'll get divorced, then I'll get married again, and then I'll be married for a while, then I'll get divorced." They don't say, "I want serial marriages." What they say is, "I want a long-term, lifelong, committed marriage that was better, perhaps, than what I experienced with my own parents." What we need to do, it seems to me, is to take that motivation that they have, to work with it, and not say to them, "It's impossible. My goodness, let's all give up marriages; that's old-fashioned; nobody can possibly aspire to a lifelong marriage anymore." And instead, to teach them the skills and the knowledge that's necessary to be able to achieve what they very, very desperately want to have.
MICHAEL NOVAK: Ms. Van Gulick, I would like to ask you a couple of questions. First, why the word "values"? What is a value?
VAN GULICK: I think people get mixed up between values . . . what are personal values and values their religion espouses, and things like that. What we're basing these on are ethics, an ethical value: what is right and what is wrong.
NOVAK: The reason I'm asking the question this wayfor a tedious reason, I guessbut it has two parts to it. First, your goal is character, and you say you want students to develop some strengths. It seems to me you're talking about habits, not values.
VAN GULICK: We would hope that it would become a habit.
NOVAK: Well, what is character? It's a bundle of habits; it's a bunch of predictable tendencies. So it seems to me . . . and the reason I think it's important this is the other point I was trying to elicit"values" is an Nietzschean word; it means you don't have them. I mean, it means whatever you will, that's your values. It means there aren't any. And therefore, I think it's a mischievous word in the long run. And since you really do mean things that people can develop, I'd like to push the direction of thought, what's already implicit in what you're saying.
VAN GULICK: Again, I think the wisdom that came out of the Aspen Declaration was that there are some values that are universal, that people can ascribe to, that everyone can believe in. If Nietzsche thinks there's a lack of values, then that's another
NOVAK: Well, citizenship, for one, isn't universal. It's only true in free societies.
VAN GULICK: Well, they have their own sense of citizenship. I'm not saying it's always the same. But there is some sense of citizenship.
NOVAK: I think it's a very modern and limited notion. The second line of thought I want to get is, you described how hard it is to work against television. It seems to me odd that we have, in television, the most powerful, symbolic instrument the human race has ever had. And how is it possible it works so contrary to the character and habits that we need as a free society, to make a free society worthwhile? Why isn't there an enormous revolt? Why should parents have to work so hard to undo what's
VAN GULICK: I think we are seeing the revolt. I think we're in the middle of it now. I think the pendulum, hopefully, is swinging back, because there is a revolt against that sort of thing. I think we're now seeing ratings on TV shows, I think parents are forming groups, I think there's a national alliance now of people who are looking at TV. I think there is, in fact, a movement away from just free watching of TV that irresponsible adults have put together because it's going to make them money. I really do believe that kids are getting their values more from "Leave It to Beaver" now than "Beavis and Butthead."
BENNETT: Could I piggyback on this?
VAN GULICK: Please.
BENNETT: I'd like to get the rest of the panel's comments. It seems to me, as a citizen of Washington, I welcome the buses here every year with the students, and Becky was saying earlier, we need to come to Washington and talk to the leaders of the country. Are we so sure that's where the leaders of the country are? In terms of all the messages that the kids are taking. Kids don't watch the Christian Coalition on C-Span and go out and march. They don't watch even Bill Clinton's State of the Union and go out and march. They watch commercials and TV and go out and say they need shoes, and they need this and they need that CD, Star Wars Once, Star Wars Twice. Not all of it is terrible, either. I'm just talking about power. And I think this is Michael's point. It is the new template. If you don't think so, ask kids what they want and where they learned it. Shouldn't we redirect those buses to MCA, Universal, Seagrams, Paramount? I mean, isn't that where the forming of the modern sensibility is? We don't want a religious agendaGod forbid a religious agenda (excuse the expression), a political agenda. Meanwhile, these guys are having a free-for-all on our children. I mean, there are groups forming. But I'll tell you, as part of three groups that are forming. . . You know, these guys put on the worst filth in the world. You challenge themthey lie. You challenge them to public debateMr. Bronfman continues to hide, he will not debate any of these issues. They don't care. They are power. This is not a political comment. In the old Madisonian notion of poweryou know, worry where the power is. That's where the power is. It's not here. Jesse Helms, for Pete's sake. It's those guys.
VAN GULICK: I agree.
DONOVAN: What I've learned is, we have to take young people where they are at. And through this experience, as I said before, this is about power and how do you access power? And the kids will tell you that there's strength in numbers, whether it be this group of what society refers to as nerds at our school and that everybody picks on . . . and they organized a group called Friendship, and they go about telling little kids about the pain of being picked on. And they want to come up to Washington because this is where the action is at this point. But in their neighborhoods, they are working. As an example, if you look through your information I sent you, we had a group called Stop the Violence that organized a response to violence in the neighborhood.
BENNETT: I agree. All I'm saying is that Becky and her armyand I believe Becky can command an army, and Tamishiathey can go beat up on Senator Cole all you want. I think it might be more productive to go beat up on Eisner and the people who are producing this stuff which are shaping the sensibilities of a lot of these dopey boys you got to deal with. It's not Cole who's doing it. (I got to go do television after this.)
WICHLACZ: In response to that: we wanted to come to Washington because, for some reason, out here around elected officials and government officers, there seem to be a lot of TV cameras and newspapers, tabloids. See, we figure this is the easiest way to get Public Achievement recognizedto have more people know about it. That is what we want to do here. Not necessarily to talk to a senator or something, but so other people can learn about this and know about Public Achievement. And that's our goal.
ISMAR SCHORSCH: Dr. Horn, you spoke a while ago about the desire to change the culture. What is the nature of the culture? Twenty-five years ago, Christopher Lasch wrote a book about the "culture of narcissism." And I am struck by the fact that the problems implicit in your initiative are not restricted to the poor. They cut across. There are fathers absent in middle-class homes and wealthy homes just as they are in impoverished homes. And I would submit to you that narcissism is individualism run amok. The values that you mentioned, Ms. Van Gulick, are all in the direction of reining in the individual appetite. They all deal with how we relate to the other. The underlying problem in this society is that we don't think about the other a great deal. We only think about ourselves. And it seems to me that at the heart of this cultural renewal is the struggle to find balance between the needs and wants of ourselves and the rights of the other. In the first session, someone spoke about proportionality, the need for balance. This is a Commission that is in quest of balance, balancing the rights of ourselves, the achievement of individualism, with the needs of the other.
HORN: May I just say, real quickly: Young boys don't need fathers to indulge them. Young boys need fathers who demonstrate by their behavior, day in, day out, that they are sacrificing their own self-fulfillment in order to take care of others. And if you want to grow up a generation of narcissists, then have indulging parents. But if you have fathers who do their job, that sacrifice for the family, that commit to the family, and model that for the boys, it seems to me that's the best way to combat this culture of narcissism, as you say.
VAN GULICK: And if I may just suggest that the values that we are talking about in character development, when you do think of yourself, it's in the role as a person who is responsible, as a person who is compassionate, as a person who is respectful of himself or herself as well as others. And so it's a different way of thinking of themselves, I believe.
RICHARD LAND: I think Bill Bennett hit on a very sensitive and, I think, important and critical point. And that is that television in particular, media in general, are powerfulperhaps the most powerful of cultural shapers in our society. And they are far more of a problem than they are a solution at present, and have been for a good while in our culture. And I think that until we are willing to address that and to take it on head-on, that we are going to have a very difficult time moving this society in the directions that are going to shape character and shape the kinds of children that we want to see in the United States in the next century.
I don't watch much television anymore. But when I do, I am frequently appalled and sometimes embarrassed by what I see on what used to be prime time family-hour television. And there's a great deal of antisocial behavior, often with very little conse-quence. Dr. Horn, as you said . . . we've gone from Father Knows Best to Al Bundy. I don't know anybody like the Bundys; if I did, I would try not to know them very quickly. I certainly wouldn't let my children associate with them. I think that this is a very critical issue. The values of the entertainment industry do not reflect of the values of the United States. They shape more than they reflect, and they have an enormous amount of power. And I personally don't think they have a requisite amount of public accountability. And that's our fault.
MICHAEL NOVAK: Commenting on the comments by Dr. Donovan about, it's all about power. If that's true, it's only because, I think, government has occupied so much space in our life, that you can do almost nothing without bumping into government. And if that's true, we've surrendered the experiment of self-government. We've given ourselves back to the state. I put it that way because I think the project of civic renewal and the project of civil society is reclaiming from the state, devolving from the state back to civil society, powers due citizens. Becky, Tamishia, and others should be able to govern themselves in their school and in their locality, and others, too. And it's because we've lost so much of that, that we have to start at ground zero and start over. But as long as you conceive of it as taking your chunk of power from government, we're back in the same box we were in.
DONOVAN: Part of, I think, the reason for this Commission was because of apathy that's in our nation. And I think the girls will tell you, and other students in our school, that elected officials are not going to solve our problems. So power needs to be gained by citizens to bring about change. And on that tool belt that I said in the beginning, along with the core subjects of reading and writing and math, citizenship, I think, is a necessary component.
GALSTON: Thanks to this first panel for a splendid start for today.
For more information on the Commission, including summaries of the plenary sessions, see the Commission's web site.
Forward to Panel Two