The social issues of today will have a dramatic effect on the perceived mission of education, which is already changing and will, inevitably, change as the years passes. These social issues: downward generational mobility; loss of economic opportunity; family disruption; and the disappearance or traditional parenting; are all related and, unfortunately, appear, at this point, irreversible. Teachers, more and more, will be called upon to be the effective parents of the children they teach in their classes. Ironically, as their responsibilities increase, their powers to influence their students will decrease, but the latter subject's not within the scope of this essay. This essay simply explains the challenges before educators in their changing role.
Any decent social scientist has noted that America is experiencing generational downward mobility. In other words, each generation is poorer than its predecessors, starting with the "Silent Generation," degressing with the "Yuppie Generation," and continuing with the "X Generation." Depressingly, all indications point to further economic decline, for a variety of institutional and economic reasons, with little or no upswing. This effects education because the parents that I, as a thirty-three-year-old professional, will deal with belong to the X Generation and their followers; their relative poverty will effect their abilities to parent.
First of all, X Generation members increasingly do not live within the family that most of the X Generation members grew up with, two parents and children, which will have a depressing effect on their outlooks as well as their lifestyle. As professor Gary S. Becker of the University of Chicago states:
"People have a romantic ideal of the 'ideal' family of seventy- five years ago, where women stayed home with three or four children. But that family is not realistic under today's economic conditions" (Becker, 1992).
Families are experiencing hard times with financial restructuring eliminating white collar, blue collar, and technical jobs and companies dealing out overtime rather than hiring new workers. As a consequence of rising unemployment, especially among the X Generation, according some studies real family income has declined 4.4% since 1989. (Boroghs, 1992). Studs Terkel, oral historian, has even compared the present economic difficulties to the Great Depression (Boroughs, 1992), noting "'there are a lot of parallels between then and now.'"
Despite some optimistic beliefs that these conditions are temporary, in fact, the jobs of the future will be highly technical and fewer in number. In other words, only a minority of those considering parenthood or presently parents will be able to fill these jobs. Considering the effects of some of the other problems cited later in this article, it's not unreasonable to suppose that the children of these same workers will be even less likely to fill these desirable and scarce jobs, leaving them again, underpaid and in constant danger of becoming unemployed. This may explain why, in a recent poll of registered voters, 72% named economic issues as the biggest problem facing families (Boroughs, 1992).
While feminists and their opponents debate the morality of whether middle, lower, and upper class women should work instead of remaining home, economic reality is rapidly taking away any choice. For example, studies note that during the recession of 1981-1982 (comparable data for 1991-1992 was not available), the number of women in the work force with infants under a year old at home jumped 6 percent in two years, the fastest increase on record (Boroughs, 1992). This is a natural consequence of the fact that younger workers, having less seniority, are most likely to lose their jobs. If these are male workers, either losing their job or taking a lower paying position forces their wives into the labor force. A recent survey (cited in Boroughs, 1992) found that of women in the work force 56%, especially those with children, would quit if they did not need the money, up from 33% in 1988.
The school children of the future, therefore, even if they have two parents, are far less likely to have a parent at home to meet them and raise them. Many will have spent the years before they reach school in a series of day-care centers. Again, this is not necessarily a move orchestrated by choice. As one working mother states: "I don't have a single friend who doesn't regret how little time she spent with her children." (Elmer-Dewitt, 1992).
Even the children of the technical elite will suffer somewhat. Their higher paying jobs will require long hours and extensive and periodic re-education. The result of entering these fields, then, will be increased earnings (enough to exit children from the public systems), but less time to spend with children. As Martha Riche notes in "The Future of the Family," a minority (of children) will grow up in small families with economic and educational advantages, but their parents will spend more money on them than time with them (Riche, 1991). The children of the future, then, even those with a two-parent family, will be less affluent than their parents and, more importantly, spend almost all will spend less time with their parents.
Studies of the kind of child care that children receive in day care centers, vary in their conclusion, but generally support a view that parenting is better than child care. For example, the Conference on Infant Studies (Kreyche, 1989) showed that among the bad things coming out of our full time day care center were "poorer study skills, lower grades, and diminished self-esteem." Some psychiatrists have even invented a term, "'alienation separation syndrome.'" (Kreyche, 1992) to explain the bad effects of abandoning younger children to day care.
While children of dual-parent families will suffer from less parental contact, they will be relatively well off compared to the children of divorced and single-parent families. This constitutes a growing number of children. A study cited in the Monthly Labor Review (Wetzel, 1990) finds that almost one fourth (15.3 million) of the Nation's children (under 18) lived with only one parent in the 1980s. Barbara Whitehead states most of the negatives of what she calls "family disruption" in her not politically correct article with the title of "Dan Quayle was Right!" Whitehead found that "contrary to popular belief beliefe, many children do not 'bounce back' after divorce or remarriage" and that children of divorce are generally less successful in school, work, and romance (Whitehead, 1993). This view is echoed by Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociolgist who states "almost anything you can imagine not wanting to happen to your children is a consequence of divorce." (Leo, 1992).
Nor do the negative effect of divorce end with a single generation. Researchers are finding the effects of divorce span generations (Richie, 1991). As might be expected, children of divorced parents are, themselves, more likely to experience divorce.
Remarriage doesn't necessarily improve the lives of children either. Children often see the step-parent as a hostile figure, do not receive the financial support of natural children, and are more likely to suffer from psychological problems than children of two-parent families. In fact, one researcher (Whitehead, 1993) concluded "children living with stepparents appear to be even more disadvantaged than children living in a stable single parent family."
Besides the obvious social and psychological problems occurring when parents divorce, children, again, end up with less time with their parents: Due to their preoccupation with their own traumas, parents have, according to Whitehead, "less time, attention, and money to devote to their children." Again, then, a primary effect of divorce, like downward mobility, is a loss of time to be active parents.
Compared to their predecessors, the X Generation parents and their followers will be progressively poorer. Partly, this is an effect of the poor having more children, but mainly this is because of, again, downward mobility and family disruption. Children were far more likely to be among the poor, such that "almost 20 percent of all children, 1 out of every 5, were living in poverty during 1988, compared with 10.7 persons 18 or more years of age." (Wetzel, 1988).
Whitehead blames most of this on family disruption "most scientists now agree that single motherhood is an important and growing cause of poverty." (Whitehead, 1993). Whatever the cause, not only will more students for the future be deprived of parental support and guidance; they will also be simply deprived.
The forgoing discussion suggests the obvious conclusion that the "home life" of the future will little resemble the home life that X Generation parents grew up with because parents, and all the benefits they provide, will simply be absent. Parents will be out working, searching for work, or searching for partners. In fact, using the new definition that some sociologists have suggested that families be defined by "frequency of interaction" (Riche, 1991), many of students will not really have a family at all. Children will be left to their own devices, divorced from adults whom even the most cynical educators acknowledge as the most important persons in teaching children and in preparing them to learn. As Philip Elmer-DeWitt describes it in his article on child care (Elmer-DeWitt, 1992):
"Home has been left an impoverished place, little more than a dormitory, a spot for a shower, and a change of clothes. And as mothers have increasingly departed for the office or factory, children's isolation from the adult world has increased dramatically."
As most educators have already experienced, this does not bode well for education or the raising of children.
While in the past of American history, the home has been a kind of school, the school of the future will be called upon to become a home with teachers assuming the role of parents. Partly, this will occur, again, by default. Educators will find that they have to do something to ready their students to learn since teacher job evaluations depend, to some extent, on student success and performance.
Also, teachers tend to be caring individuals and, seeing their students in need, they will try to help them with the hope that learning can occur when this need is met.
Students will not enter school ready to learn but ready to be parented. Older students will enter school having spent most of their lives "on their own", (as one parent interpreted her daughter's upbringing), and having little self-discipline or values, having not been instructed in these things by their parents. Many will expect constant gratification and entertainment, due their parents having showered them with gifts to atone for their absence. Some students will be extremely insecure from having experienced a variety of day-care and home-care arrangements. Some will crave enormous amounts of the teacher's attention to compensate for the little adult interaction they normally receive in their emptied homes. Finally, some will require psychological assistance. In other words, the school will see kids entering who have never had a parent, except in name, for five to fifteen years of life and have to cope with this situation.
Some changes in function are already apparent in the growing psychological services provided by the school, what Whitehead (Whitehead, 1993) terms "the psycholization of education." With their typically practical bent, educators came to the conclusion that a disturbed child needs to be helped before educated. As more student enter who have experienced little human interaction, especially adult interaction, the need for such assistance will grow.
Programs already provide for parenting in other respects. Head-Start has operated as an effective child-care program for Inner City pre-schoolers. Some schools even provide meals for students free of charge. While these services are presently offered for the lower and welfare class, as time passes their services will be extended to the middle and lower classes (who will, in fact be as poor as today's lower and welfare classes) with, perhaps, some minimal charges to users of the services.
In California, businesses are advocating, with the best-stated intentions, a program for all three-year-old students along the lines of "Head Start," on the simple logical grounds that it's better to have the State provide the day-care rather than risk the possibility that the government might force the businesses themselves to provide the day care for their workers. As time goes on, progressively younger students will be enrolled in similar programs simply because not enough day care-centers will be available that can afford to pay the inevitable lawsuits that plague day-care centers; the school districts have, in the jargon of the California legal profession, "big pockets" and can provide some stability to the child care profession. Further, schools have a certain history as child-raising institutions, and they can be sued if they fail, putting parents are in a no-lose situation. Finally, the schools are much cheaper, on a per pupil basis, than day-care centers.
In fact, educators already see many of the signs of change in our classrooms. Most educators can readily identify 1) students who experience disruption at home 2) students whose parents are constantly absent 3) students who have never had a parent. The signs are also evident in the popular culture of our schools in which being called "immature" is considered a compliment. The wearing of pacifiers, the more immature acting out in class, and glorification of childhood (many students favorite saying is "I don't wanna grow up"), all demonstrate individual students in desperate need of the adult attention-and guidance not being provide at home.
As a teacher, I can envision the day when parents "enroll" their children at birth in their local school, which they will attend until they are eighteen. The school doors will open at 4:00 and close at 12:00; some children will sleep overnight in the school, and children will see their parents decreasing amounts of time. Teachers will be expected, required, to "raise" those children, fifteen to thirty at a time, dealing with the disturbed and the gifted. Education will occur with far greater difficulty, so top students will live in boarding houses at elite private schools. We will have, in fact, the most thorough, non-parent centered, educational and child-rearing system in world, comparable only to that of North Korea. The big difference will be that while North Korea's system is designed in instill proper Communist values in its citizens, ours will be totally "values neutral."
The ultimate future of education in America, then, is that schools will become not institutions of learning, but cradle to voting age, low-priced, day-care centers at which teaching subject matter is, at best, a secondary consideration. This curriculum of child-raising, unspoken and unmentioned, will creep up so slowly that few teachers will call attention to it, and none will publicly acknowledge it. In reality, though, teachers will be employed as surrogate parents.
I hope that this view of the future of American education is totally incorrect. Many of the factors forcing the future outlined above are ultimately economic and political in nature, but X Generation parents, outnumbered and outvoted by their elders and out-powered by powerful business leaders and unions, have shown little inclination to control their own destiny at the ballot box or through action. The future of education in America over the next thirty years, then, is the unacknowledged, gradual, transition of schools from educational institutions to low-priced day-care centers.
Becker, Gary S. (1992) professor of the University of Chicago, quoted in US News and World Report, October 26, 1992, p 24.
Borughs, Don L. with David Hage, Robert F. Black and Richard J. Newman. "Love and Money." US News and World Report, October 19, 1992, pp. 54-60.
Stephanie Coontz. "A National of Welfare Families," Harpers, October 1992, pp. 13-16.
Elmer-Dewitt, Philip with Edler Brown and Michele Donley. "The Great Experiment." Time, Fall 1992, Special Issue, pp. 72075.
Kreyche, Gerald F. "Day Care: The New Surrogacy." USA Today, September, 1989, pp. 91-93.
Leo, John. "A family plan for Uncle Sam." U.S. News and World Report. November 30, 1992, p. 22.
Madigan, Kathleen. "You Want 'Family Value'? They'll Cost Billions." Business Week, September 28, 1992, p. 88.
Riche, Martha Farnsworth. "The Future of the Family." American Democracies, March 1991, pp. 44-47.
Wetzel, James R. "American Families: 75 Years of Change." Monthly Labor Review, March 1990, pp. 4-13.
Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe. "Dan Quayle Was Right." The Atlantic Monthly. April 1993, pp. 47-84.Links to other sites on the Web: Back to the Academic Page