To Improve Education and Economy, Legislators Must Strengthen Marriage

Published January 14, 2012

When I (Cynthia) attended Logan Elementary School in Wilmette, Illinois, we students were sent home for lunch with the understanding our parents would feed and send us back for the afternoon session an hour later. It was every family’s duty to ensure somebody provided lunch every day.

Far more happened than bodily nourishment. Parents offer nourishment for the soul and transmit family values. Family lunches gave us time to process what was happening in school and reinforce the culture and virtues that make great citizens.

Parents were expected to raise their children, and school teachers were expected to educate. As no-fault divorce and cohabitation swept the nation, marriage began a tumble quickly followed by declining student test scores.

Marriage-absence, whether through divorce or a family that failed to form in the first place, is a key structural problem driving education failure today. Too many children lack the parental guidance necessary for school readiness. Statistically, children raised in intact families have social and economic advantages. 

Parents’ Absence Burdens Schools
Between 1970 and 2009, poorly designed public policies caused marriage rates to decline by 53 percent nationally, while illegitimacy soared 1,700 percent. Today, 41 percent of the nation’s children are born outside marriage. In poor areas, this percentage is much higher. Children ended up worse off academically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

As parents did less, public schools started doing more. The lines started blurring when social engineers assumed parents were failing and asked schools to gradually assume more child-rearing duties. Most teachers love teaching and are happy to help when called upon, but requiring them to parent half their students before beginning to teach is an impossible task.

When we adopt public policies that build marriage, we will have a winning recipe for improved outcomes for all.

Teachers cannot insist that children brush their teeth, do their homework, wash their clothes, and go to bed. Yet they are expected to educate sleep-deprived, unprepared, and unmotivated children. Public schools are starting to resemble public orphanages. 

Bigger government programs, such as the free breakfast and lunch programs, are a consequence of marriage-absence. Children should be fed by their parents—the norm in families formed through marriage. 

Rewarding Society-Destroying Behavior
No Child Left Behind, the largest federal education law, will go down in history as one of the greatest academic failures ever, because it rested upon several false presumptions. It implied schools can be forced to produce better outcomes with more testing and completely ignored the fundamental domestic failures that drive educational failures.

Our system of college funding encourages illegitimacy and discourages marital responsibility. When calculating how to pay for college for Cynthia’s daughter, she noted having a baby now would secure coverage for her college expenses.

This is only one factor driving the disappearance of the middle class. Middle-class families are punished for responsible behavior while their children are encouraged to join a struggling underclass unlikely to rise into the middle class.

Restore Economic Competitiveness
Governments ought to protect citizens from tyranny, administrate justice, and build infrastructure. Marriage economics is the bedrock of all successful nations. Economic success requires strong marriages—the word “economy” comes from the Greek word oikonomia, or “management of a household.” America’s academic and economic competitiveness with marriage-based Asian countries depends on restoring marriage as the social norm.

How can we accomplish this critical task? Reforming divorce laws, encouraging shared parenting, and eliminating government incentives for cohabitation and marital irresponsibility will help children in our schools and free teachers from serving as surrogate parents. The Center for Marriage Policy has a storehouse of policies to end marriage-destructive policies and encourage positive ones.

It is time for the United States to discard policies dooming the next generation and replace them with marriage-positive policies. We encourage teachers and legislators to join this historic effort at returning schools to their structural purpose by supporting marriage values policies. The success or failure of education depends on it.

Cynthia Davis ([email protected]) is the former State Representative for Missouri’s 19th District and executive director of the Center for Marriage Policy. David R. Usher ([email protected]) is president of the Center for Marriage Policy. See for more information.


Image by Liam Quinn.