Devin Foley of Intellectual Takeout, and Better Ed
Family breakdown causing instability in
society, public institutions
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Civic Process
Interview November 13, 2015
John Adams, Steve Anderson,
Janis Clay, Devin Foley, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy
Johnson, Dan Loritz (chair), Bill Rudelius, Dana Schroeder (associate
director), Clarence Shallbetter, Tom Spitznagle. By phone: Dave Broden
The disintegration of the
family in our society is a fundamental public-policy institution
breakdown, according to Devin Foley of Intellectual Takeout and Better
Ed. He asserts that family breakdown is causing instability for our
entire society and for our public institutions-our policy
institutions, our government and our schools.
High out-of-wedlock birthrates in Hennepin
and Ramsey Counties, especially among minority communities, highlight
the destruction of the family, Foley states. He points to large
achievement gaps between whites and minorities in Minneapolis and St.
Paul public schools as results of both family breakdown and schools
that don't work, despite high rates of spending per student. He says
public schools cannot replace families.
But he praises three successful schools
located in Minneapolis, but not part of the school district. They
offer different models and assume a different role in their students'
lives. He sees a critical need for school choice for families.
He takes a close look at millennials, saying
that since a large number of them come from broken homes, they've
learned that family doesn't really matter. He notes that half of all
births to millennials are out of wedlock. He claims millennials are a
lost, lonely and adrift generation. They have a strong longing for
community at the local level, but because of the atomization of
society, they don't know how to achieve it. He concludes by saying
older generations should be horrified that as they age, the
millennials will be the people in charge.
Devin Foley is cofounder and
president of the Minnesota nonprofits Intellectual Takeout and Better
Ed. He oversees content development and marketing, works with
academics and experts to assure quality, and publicly promotes the
Intellectual Takeout (ITO) is
a national nonprofit
educational organization based in Minnesota. Its vision is a cultural
renaissance in America, based on
the ideals of freedom, justice and subsidiarity, i.e., the principle
that political decisions should be made at the local level if
possible, rather than by a central authority. Better Ed is a nonprofit
education reform project dedicated to bringing about a new education
system in Minnesota.
Prior to co-founding Intellectual Takeout
and Better Ed, Foley served as director of development at the Center
of the American Experiment, a Minnesota think tank. He has eight years
of fundraising and policy experience working for candidates and
nonprofit organizations. He studied history and political science at
Hillsdale College in Michigan.
This interview with Devin Foley
is part of a new focus for the Civic Caucus on reviewing the quality
of Minnesota's past, present and future civic process for
anticipating, defining and resolving major public problems. The Caucus
asked Foley to discuss the involvement of millennials in the civic
(ITO) began in 2003 as a project of the Minnesota-based Center of the American
In 2009, it spun off from the Center and no longer has any formal
connection with it. The mission of ITO is to provide an online,
one-stop shop of resources for all those interested in learning about
freedom. ITO gathers published materials on topics of interest to
college students and synthesizes them at its website. Its
is compiled with the assistance of 30 student researchers.
Intellectual Takeout aims to "feed minds,
foster discussion and inspire action, based on the principles and
virtues necessary for human flourishing."
website asserts that the organization has a national audience that is
almost equal parts conservative and liberal and consists of 1.2
million people on social media.
The mission of
Better Ed is to creatively
enlighten the public about the data and ideas that currently shape
American education and introduce them to ideas that can help improve
it. Better Ed has been a vocal critic of achievement levels in the
Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). By creating greater public
awareness, Better Ed hopes to generate the desire for an educational
renaissance in Minnesota that recaptures the wisdom and methods of the
past and applies them to the present. The organization has 42,000
subscribers, primarily local.
If the general public is to take a larger role in shaping public
policy, it's important to communicate with them and engage them
directly. According to Devin Foley, cofounder and president of
Intellectual Takeout and Better Ed, a small cadre of people has been
shaping public policy and often the public has been secondary in those
conversations. He said the general public needs a larger role in
shaping public policy. During his work at the Center of the American
Experiment (CAE), a Minnesota-based public policy think tank, Foley
said he saw a need to communicate with the general public. "We wanted
to go in and engage them directly," he said.
When Intellectual Takeout (ITO), which
started in 2003 as a project of CAE, spun off from the Center in 2009,
Foley said social media was coming into its own. ITO started its own
website and now has 1.2 million subscribers on Facebook. He said the
audience, made up mostly of millennials, is diverse politically, with
a large number of independents.
The associated Better Ed organization,
focused on education reform in Minnesota, has 42,000 mostly local
"In one week we can reach up to 30 million
people nationwide," he said. "It's shocking the number of people you
can engage through digital means."
The millennials make up a large generation,
almost matching the baby boomers in size. Foley defined the
millennials as ranging in age from about 20 to 37. He said the
in-between generation, Gen X, is significantly smaller than either the
baby boomer or millennial generations.
"Because of their generation's size, it's
important to consider what the millennials are looking at, what their
experiences are and what the reality is for even younger Americans
coming up," he said. Some question why youth aren't organizing and
aren't more engaged with organizations like the Civic Caucus.
If there is disorder in the family, there
will be disorder in society. "I was asked what public policy
institutions I would draw attention to," Foley said. "I would have to
say that it's the family. We have a significant challenge ahead of
He said the traditional family has a mother
and a father and their children. In such a traditional family, he
said, the father and mother have different roles, driven by science
and nature. The family is where a child learns justice, discipline
and how organizations work and experiences security in the home.
"But the family unit has broken down," he
said. Divorce is common. Millennials are having kids out of wedlock or
are living together and not getting married. "If the family is the
concrete foundation and source of stability for our entire society,
for all other public institutions, including our policy institutions,
our government, our schools, and the family collapses, we have a
serious problem," Foley said.
The millennials have learned from previous
generations that family doesn't really matter. Nationally, half of
all births to millennials are out of wedlock, Foley noted. He said a
the Third Way Institute, which identifies itself as a centrist think
tank, asserts that children from single-parent homes have worse
outcomes on both academic and economic measures than their peers from
two-parent families. The study notes a vast difference in resources
and parental time and attention between one-parent and two-parent
families. It says most single-parent families are headed by mothers
and boys appear to do relatively worse in these families, perhaps due
to the absence of fathers.
There are large disparities between whites
and minorities in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties in births out of
wedlock and academic achievement. According to the Minnesota
Department of Health, Foley said, out-of-wedlock birthrates are as
In Hennepin County in 2014: 17 percent for whites and 84 percent
for American-born African Americans. Between 2010 and 2014, 61
percent to 63 percent for Hispanics and in the high 80s to the 90s
for American Indians.
In Ramsey County, from 2010 to 2014: between 27 percent and 29
percent for whites; between 87 percent and 92 percent for
American-born African Americans; and between 60 percent and 66
percent for Hispanics.
"You're looking at the utter destruction of
the family, particularly for minorities," Foley said.
Gaps in academic achievement are also large:
In Minneapolis public schools in 2015, 77 percent of whites in
all grades were reading at or above grade level, compared with less
than 25 percent of Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans.
In St. Paul public schools in 2015, 67 percent of whites in 10th
grade were reading at or above grade level, compared with 28 percent
of Hispanics, 19 percent of blacks and 27 percent of Native
Foreign-born African American immigrants
have much lower out-of-wedlock birthrates than American-born African
Americans. An interviewer asked if new immigrants have a stronger
sense of family than some native-born Americans. Foley responded that
in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties in 2014, foreign-born African
Americans have lower out-of-wedlock birthrates than American-born
Out-of-wedlock birthrates in Hennepin County in 2014:
American-born African Americans, 84 percent; foreign-born African
Americans, 37 percent.
Out-of-wedlock birthrates in Ramsey County in 2014:
American-born African Americans, 87 percent; foreign-born African
Americans, 35 percent.
We have a fundamental public-policy
institution breakdown: the self-organizing family. Intellectual
Takeout, Foley said, tries to point out how much it matters how people
live. "Ultimately, our society is driven from the bottom up, he said.
"It is not top down. That's what makes a republic. That's what makes a
democratic society. You have to learn how to order yourself and that
comes from your experience in family."
Foley asserted that the millennials are a
lost, lonely and adrift generation. Many of them come from broken
homes, which lead to a great sense of insecurity. "We have a
significant psychosis problem for an entire generation," he said. "If
we're going to talk about public-policy institutions that matter," he
said, "we have to get back to the family. Looking at the millennial
generation, a lot of challenges are rooted in the breakdown of the
most basic foundation of our society."
There are no institutions today devoted
specifically to strengthening the family. An interviewer noted
that until 30 years ago, we took strong families as a given. But now
there has been a weakening of family bonds. Foley said he knew of no
organizations today devoted to strengthening the family.
"Churches aren't doing this," he said. "It's
not there. People are walking away from the churches. In addition to
the family breaking down, we've atomized as a society."
The interviewer asked what is at the root of
families breaking up or not being formed in the first place. Foley
responded that it's interesting how many of the millennials aren't
getting married, aren't engaging. "They're living solitary lives," he
said. "Lots of millennials are choosing not to have families, because
all they can deal with is their own lives. They're massively in debt;
the cost of living is exceedingly high. The economy has changed. You
compound that with a sense of insecurity in your very being and it's
about all you can handle to manage your own life."
"We can't ignore the impact of fundamental
changes in the economy and in technology on our society," he said.
"Capitalism has brought us wonderful things, but in doing that, it
fundamentally ripped apart all of our society. Industrialism
fundamentally changed the nature of our society. The car changed the
nature of our society. We don't have to know our neighbors because we
don't walk past people anymore. We just drive."
The atomization of society has affected the
family and civic organizations. Foley said millennials have a
strong longing for community at the local level, but they don't know
how to achieve it. The civic organizations that people used to be
involved in started with the family, the church and the neighborhood.
There were common bonds that brought people together.
"As much as we want to be a pluralistic
society, it's those unique threads of fabric that draw people
together," he said. "The destruction of any sort of tradition goes
against our human nature."
President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal
brought an enormous disruption to civil society during the 1930s.
Foley said people told Roosevelt he was fundamentally changing the
role of civil society. They said the Federal government was coming in
and displacing and weakening these organizations.
Foley said the problem has been compounded
over the years with more and more laws that make it difficult for
people to self-organize on the commonalities that draw people
together, like religion and ethnicity. "If we don't have those things
to draw us together, it's really hard to be able to stand strong
against the tidal wave of consumerism and everything else that's
hitting you," he said.
An interviewer asked about
former Congressman Tim
Penny's suggestions in a recent Civic Caucus interview that requiring
universal service or helping students register to vote before they
finish high school could help young people identify with the larger
society. Foley responded that the suggestions raise red flags for him.
"As real or perceived societal disorder becomes felt among people,
there is a desire to create order," he said. "Often times, you get a
greater government presence that comes in to create that order. That
creates further disorder, because people feel the pressure of it and
revolt in different ways."
There is a clash between the education
system and family organization. Foley noted that John Dewey
(1859-1952), an education reformer
whose ideas have been
influential in education and social reform,
admitted the existence of this clash. Foley pointed to Ascension Catholic School in
North Minneapolis as an example of a school trying to reverse
course. He said the school goes door-to-door in North Minneapolis to
recruit kids to the school.
Foley said the students wear uniforms and
"you can hear a pin drop" in the school, which serves overwhelmingly
poor minority kids. "The school tells the parents that to have their
kids at Ascension, the parents must limit the amount of screen time
they allow their kids and must read to their kids so many hours a week
or have their kids read to them."
Stanford University just released a report
saying that young children in early childhood programs are going to
school too early. Foley referred to the report and said that
Canada has also found that early childhood education programs are
causing problems because they're taking the children away from their
parents too early.
"We need to look at this and at the welfare
system and think about how we can actually build strong families," he
said. "Are we incentivizing the wrong behavior? Do we need to do
Social media doesn't offer the organizing
force we'd hoped it would, but it's the tool that we have. When an
interviewer asked whether there is something in technology that could
be an organizing force in the community, Foley responded, "I hate
social media." He said it is not the organizing force we'd hoped it
would be. "It's the tool that we have because we have such shattered
communities. We don't have local community any more."
But on the positive side, his organizations
use social media to try to re-engage the population at large with the
way things used to be, offering things like history and an
introduction to the cardinal virtues, such as fortitude. "If you want
to see societal change," he said, "people have to want that change. We
either teach young people how to govern themselves, how to raise
families, how to actually have strong neighborhoods or we will have to
have strong government coming in and organizing them. History would
indicate that is often a prescription for some very bad situations
Some of the schools that are succeeding
employ different models of education and acknowledge that they have a
different role. An interviewer asked what can be done for kids of
all ages who have not had the benefit of strong families. Foley
responded by noting three examples of successful schools located in
Minneapolis that offer different models and are taking on a different
role in their students' lives: Ascension,
"Quite often, we have conned ourselves into
believing that education is neutral," Foley said. "It is not. All
education is biased, has an objective and a goal to it. There's a
purpose to this thing we do. We have to re-evaluate exactly what that
purpose is. Getting kids to do reading, writing and math isn't enough.
Education has been the passing on of our culture and traditions. The
reading, writing and math are just the ways to engage in the culture,
the traditions and the economy."
"It's a sad day when we've come to the point
where the family has so disintegrated that people don't know how to be
a family," he continued. Government and other forces now have to
reteach people how to be a family. But to do that, society will have
to agree that it's important. "Right now, you have a very big chunk of
people who don't see the value of family, because they never were a
part of it or they didn't find it to be the secure environment it was
supposed to be."
School choice matters. Foley said school
choice is important, because parents need to have control over what
ideas and values are presented to their children. Otherwise, there's a
danger of government taking that control. "We must self-organize
organically to talk about the importance of family and to help
children have a better chance at life or, eventually, Caesar comes and
the disintegration of society will overwhelm us."
It's important to know what organizations
that work with kids are communicating to those kids. An
interviewer asked about the impact of groups like the YMCA, Boys and
Girls Clubs and scouting. Foley said we must see what those
organizations are communicating to the kids. He thinks the
organizations are increasingly feeling pressure to conform to the
dominant trends in society and to not offend, as opposed to standing
firm on certain ideas.
"They do good work," he said, "but we must
plant a very firm flag in the soil and say, 'You need a Mom and a Dad
to actually take responsibility for what they created. It's a moral
crime against both the children and society for parents to fail to
actually do their duty.' How many of us, how many in the media, how
many corporations are willing to take that stand and offend a whole
swath of their consumers?"
We should preserve whatever remnant of
people is out there holding onto the ideas of the past. "It may be
that strengthening a remnant is necessary and that remnant can then
pick up the pieces, just like it did after Rome fell," Foley said.
We've spent trillions of dollars on the War
on Poverty. Foley said we've spent trillions of dollars attempting
to fight these problems with bureaucracies. "Has the situation
improved?" he asked. "I think it would be better if these programs
Minneapolis public schools are spending as
much or more per student as some private schools and getting poor
outcomes. Foley asked why the media are not bringing to light the
poor outcomes for minority students in Minneapolis Public Schools
(MPS). In 2015, less than 25 percent of black, Hispanic and Native
American students in MPS were reading at grade level. "This should be
a headline," he said.
MPS are producing these poor outcomes, Foley
said, despite spending more per student than some private schools. He
said Better Ed has calculated the amount of total spending per student
in MPS by taking the school district's total expenditures and dividing
them by the number of students. The total spending is $21,000 per
student. Suburban districts, he said, spend around $13,000 to $15,000
The Minneapolis school district claims the
spending per student is only $13,000 to $15,000, but Foley points out
that includes only general operations spending, not total spending.
Homeschooling families will represent a
significant proportion of the people who come back and hold things
together down the road. In response to an interviewer's question
about the impact of homeschooling, Foley said his children are being
homeschooled. "It's a grueling endeavor," he said. "It's an enormous
burden on the wives who are doing it. There's a lot of stress for all
of the family. They're willing to make the sacrifice because they
believe they're bettering their own children's future and maintaining
the culture and traditions."
He said the group of homeschoolers is
growing and includes people on both sides of the aisle. "People are
fleeing the public schools," he said.
The public schools can't replace family.
Foley said early childhood education is attempting to replace family
and it can't. Recent studies, he noted, say that early childhood
education cannot replace the parent and that it's detrimental to take
the child away from the parent at an early age. The only thing schools
can do is to give people the grounding they need to actually be good
parents, Foley said, and to teach what it means to be a good person.
We're at the end stage of the Enlightenment.
Foley said the Enlightenment was grounded on freedom and equality.
Freedom meant people were free to do what is right and good, which was
defined by the culture. He said freedom now means, "Do whatever I
want. No one should have authority over me. I create my own set of
values, my own morals." That leads to chaos, he argued. Young people
have been taught that the world will conform to what they want instead
of them conforming to the world.
He concluded by saying older generations
should be horrified that as they age, the millennials will be the
people in charge.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,