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These comments are responses to the Civic Caucus interview with

Mitch Pearlstein, Founder, Center of the American Experiment
December 04, 2015

Family breakdown leads to disastrous social problems


Family fragmentation is the overwhelming social disaster of our time in this country and the root cause of society's problems, according to Center of the American Experiment (CAE) Founder and Senior Fellow Mitch Pearlstein. He notes that nationally, 30 percent of white babies, 50 percent of Hispanic babies and 70 percent of African American babies are born out of wedlock. In Minneapolis and St. Paul and Ramsey and Hennepin Counties, the out-of-wedlock percentage for African American babies is in the mid-80s. He argues that as long as that trend continues, the achievement gap between whites and African Americans will, in most cases, never be resolved.

Pearlstein is an advocate of private-school choice, believing that private-school education, especially religious-school education, would work best for many at-risk kids. He is optimistic about the chances in upcoming Minnesota legislative sessions for education savings accounts, scholarships or tax credits that could be used for private schools.

He asserts that Minnesota's civic infrastructure leans to the left and that most civic institutions here don't take up the cultural and moral questions he considers vital. He says a number of people on the left agree with some of the issues he raises, but they don't want to say so publicly. He argues that our political and civic system, including the party caucus system, is structured in a way that doesn't work.

Making more men, particularly minority men, marriageable could help attack the problem of family fragmentation, Pearlstein believes. He notes the importance of a decent education and believes apprenticeships could lead to opportunities for young people to learn a skill and earn an income. That, in turn, could lead to more marriage and more kids growing up in two-parent families.

For the complete interview summary see: Pearlstein interview

Response Summary: Readers rated these statements about the topic and about points discussed during the meeting, on a scale of 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (neutral) to 10 (strongly agree): 

1. Topic is of value. The interview summarized today provides valuable information or insight.

2. Further study warranted. It would be helpful to schedule additional interviews on this topic.

3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. A root cause of society’s problems is the breakdown of the family, resulting in large numbers of children being reared by only one parent.

4. Single parenthood impedes narrowing of gap. high ratio of children born to single mothers in some African American communities makes it impossible in most cases for the black/white achievement gap to be narrowed.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. Private school education, particularly religious education, works best for many at-risk children.

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. Consequently, the state should offer incentives such as education savings accounts, scholarships or tax credits that could be used for private schools.

7. Institutions must consider cultural, moral issues. Civic institutions should make stronger efforts to address vital cultural and moral issues.

8. Improve marriageability of young men. Society should make a stronger effort to improve the marriageability of young men, particularly of young minority men, by assuring them an adequate education and opportunities to learn a skill and earn sufficient income to support a family.

Individual Responses:

Mike Bash (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (5) (0) (7.5) (7.5)
5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. No data was offered to support this position. The idea "feels" good but nothing was offered to say how this addresses the root problem.

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. I'm on a suburban public school board. One of the best in the state. While we're not perfect, the issues Mr. P identifies aren't the problem of public schools. We could put the teachers and administrators from my district into Minneapolis and the same problems would exist.

Greg Marcus (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Lowell Hellervik (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

Alan Miller (0) (7.5) (2.5) (0) (0) (0) (2.5) (7.5)
8. Improve marriageability of young men. The solutions suggested here come from an Ivory Tower disconnected to reality. Instead of the conservative approach of cutting back on education and science, denigrating teachers, we need more assets, more incentives, more compassion, [and] more participation by corporate and private donors. Instead of defunding nonprofits like Planned Parenthood, we need a society that shows it cares by doing more, by restoring public education, by creating job opportunities for those mired in the ghettos to give them incentives and hope. The perspective suggested here is blinders to reality, is pulling up the drawbridge and ignoring realistic societal needs.

Anonymous (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Arvonne Fraser (7.5) (5) (0) (0) (0) (0) (0) (10)
1. Topic is of value. It's a good statement for conservatives. I don't agree with what he says, but he's interesting.

2. Further study warranted. What was his topic? It seemed all over the map to me, from caucuses to families to public policy.

3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. A typical white, middle class male belief based more on nostalgia than on clear evidence.

4. Single parenthood impedes narrowing of gap. This is a reiteration of the topic above, which was misclassified as "social problems." These are economic and historical (white culture and slavery) issues. I do agree with Mitch on the lack of marriageable men, which again is an economic issue based on racism and history.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. This country thrived because of public education. Giving up on it and substituting religion is dangerous.

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. How about stronger support for public schools? What we pay and the status we give to teachers is a sin.

7. Institutions must consider cultural, moral issues. I might strongly agree if "vital cultural and moral issues" were defined.

8. Improve marriageability of young men. And if we defined the responsibilities of marriage as John Stuart Mill defined them in the 1800s.

General Comment: It would be interesting if you had a panel of women who addressed the same issues and added their own to your thinking and programming.

Anonymous (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (7.5)
3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. Incredibly true, and shockingly it seems to have become politically incorrect to even broach the issue by the left and, even more damaging, [by]the media.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. I'm not sure that this is the answer but it deserves to be analyzed more closely to determine if this could support a more responsible value system for the at-risk children.

Bob Brown (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)
3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. Or in many cases, without any parent, as the kids are left with someone else or if they are abandoned and homeless.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. There are some excellent district schools, but good value based charter schools (such as Community of Peace Academy) and religious based private schools have the advantage of being able to demonstrate a commitment to values. Too often district school leaders and staff provide a valueless environment for fear that someone might complain if they stand for something.

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. Poor people should have an opportunity for school choice like the more affluent. But there should be opportunity for informed choice, which can be done by having people placed in low income and minority communities to assist the parents and their children in making choices. Family counseling services should be set up where people are comfortable (community centers, churches etc.) Ideally those family counselors should be from the community they serve and the counselors should be trained to help the families understand the meaning of their choices.

8. Improve marriageability of young men. Society should do a better job of teaching young women that getting pregnant is not the best way to get money.

General Comment: There [are] some excellent small nonprofits with very limited resources that are working hard to assist kids in developing positive values, finishing their education, and preparing for life. These types of organizations have a hard time competing with well-funded, noisy groups that have sophisticated public relations.

Denny Carlson (0) (10) (7.5) (0) (0) (7.5) (7.5) (0)
1. Topic is of value. The information I read comes from a far right perspective that is racist and bigoted.

2. Further study warranted. The topic is very important but needs a balance of thought.

3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. Family breakdown is certainly a contributor to societal needs that must be addressed.

4. Single parenthood impedes narrowing of gap. Way too general a statement that groups all single mothers (and non-existent fathers) into the major cause of the achievement gap. That is stereotyping of the highest order, and I regard it as racist thinking.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. It works for some in controlled settings. Would all Catholics educated in parochial schools agree with this statement? How would special needs students do in this setting or do you just skim off the top the families and students you want to serve?

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. If available to all families with preschool and school age children, I would consider supporting some tax credits.

7. Institutions must consider cultural, moral issues. With the understanding of the separation of church and state.

8. Improve marriageability of young men. This is such convoluted thinking. What do you think the goal of public education is? How do you expect to gain any respect or even have people listen to your ideas if you continue to make racist, even sexist comments? Would containment camps, incarceration, or mass deportation be other strategies?

General Comment: Freedom of speech has it downfalls. As much as I agree that community forums on this topic are necessary and potentially useful, I would find it very hard to listen to narrow, bigoted thinking. How do you reach consensus or compromise if you identify the major problem in America as minority men who have abandoned their families? What are the underlying issues here - generational poverty, institutional racism, educational elitism at every level (based on family wealth), severe emotional abuse, and mental health issues. A point on Pearlstein's budget statement: As a percentage of statewide family income the actual amount of money spent on education has gone down over the years. Ask the state budget office for the specifics (from the 70's to present day); it is a significant amount (from 5% to 4%, I believe). For the record my strategies on closing the achievement gap would be: preschool education starting at age 3, universal preschool at age 4, equitable school-age funding (not just based on property wealth), school-age child care (focusing on academic and curriculum support - yes, I would support a tax credit for that), extended ESL funding and support, further funding of special education, mental heath support and parent education, additional career and tech support, encourage and support early college efforts, and support efforts like the Wallin Education Partners Scholarships (the Wallin family, US Bank, and Medtronic are big donors). If public schools were funded at the same percentage level as they were in the 70's the bulk of those strategies would be covered.

Vici Oshiro (7.5) (7.5) (10) (7.5) (5) (5) (10) (10)
3. Family breakdown a major cause of social problems. And vice versa. Social and economic problems help cause the breakdown of families.

4. Single parenthood impedes narrowing of gap. Too simplistic.

5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. Varies dramatically from place to place. Still need to separate church and state. We can teach morals and values without teaching religion. Just read an article comparing two schools in NJ which followed different paths for change. Top down did not work very well; bottom up did. This, of course, was probably influenced by personality of those involved.

6. Offer incentives for enrollment in private schools. Might help, but probably not the best solution.

7. Institutions must consider cultural, moral issues. Difficult, but not impossible.

8. Improve marriageability of young men. Now reading Piketty's Capitalism in the 21st Century. Proportion of national income going to labor has decreased over the past 40-50 years. We need substantial restructuring of economic, social and political systems both in US and elsewhere. Don't place the onus on the young men; examine their environment—and include young women.

General Comment: Family breakdown is more a symptom than a cause. I do enjoy these discussions. Do the South of the River discussions now touch on issues such as these?

David Dillon (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Anonymous (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

David Durenberger (9) (10) (10) (6) (5) (5) (5) (10)
Sure. I generally agree with Mitch on the seriousness of the problem. Not sure he or anyone else has done the kind of research necessary for critical parts of the community to come to agreement on "root causes." Which may be essential to bringing public and private actors together to work toward solutions (civic infrastructure). Meanwhile agree on something: Like George Halvorson’s "First Three Years of Life" Campaign to mentor moms into talking, reading, singing to newborns every day for at least 30 minutes. (Easy) Or the "accountability" of every community’s young males for their actions. (Harder)

Chuck Lutz (8) (9) (6) (7) (8) (8) (9) (8)

Wayne Jennings (7) (9) (6) (4) (3) (4) (8) (5)
Education has to be the answer. I’m uncomfortable with the social engineering idea advanced by Mitch although he does make an important point about family integration.

Fred Senn (10) (10) (10) (8) (10) (10) (10) (10)
5. Private schools better for at-risk kids. Christo Rey and Ascension School in North Minneapolis prove the point.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (9) (9) (8) (9) (8) (9) (10) (10)
I worry about our leaders of the future. Most of those leaders will be people of color. If children of color do not had a good education, do not have good opportunities for jobs, do not have stable families, have not been able to climb the ladder and reach for their dreams, I think the United States will become a declining country. We must make sure that children of color have opportunities. The cultural breakdown is also going on in the white community according to the statistics given by Pearlstein. We need to begin talking and doing something about that, too.

Paul Hauge (7) (6) (9) (8) (7) (5) (8) (6)


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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.

  John S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill Frenzel, Paul Gilje (Executive Director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (Chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman




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